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County agreement with CSEA trades wage increase for some benefit relief

Although the new contract with Civil Service Employees Association Local 815 may not reap huge savings for Erie County for years, it does make important changes to the costly benefits that have been squeezing the life out of local governments.

The latest agreement follows the pattern in contracts with other county unions.

Reaching an agreement with the county’s largest bargaining unit seven years after the old one expired is an accomplishment for County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz.

The deal for the approximately 2,600 CSEA members covers the years 2008 to 2016. The membership rejected four previous tentative agreements, the last one in February, that had been worked out between union leadership and county officials.

State labor law heavily favors unions in such negotiations, and union members seemed content to work under the provisions of the old contract rather than give up any of its hard-earned gains. To their credit, union members decided not to drag things out any longer.

In the short term, the agreement will cost more money as the workers get pay increases. But down the road there will be savings from changes in benefits.

Noteworthy is the movement to a value medical plan in which employees will pay from 7 percent to 7.5 percent of the cost of coverage, with new hires paying 15 percent. Acupuncture is no longer covered and deductibles and co-pays are higher. Additionally, the ridiculous threshold of five years service to qualify for retiree health care has been raised to 10 to 15 years. Still far too low, but at least a move in the right direction. New hires will not be eligible for county-paid health care.

In return, employees get 2 percent raises this year and next, and 2.5 percent in 2016, the final year of the contract. There will be no back pay, but workers will receive a bonus vacation day for each year of the expired contract.

Still to be negotiated are contracts with librarians, whose contract expired in 2006; Erie Community College faculty, whose contract expired in 2009; and ECC administrators, whose contract expired in 2011.

There was fear when Poloncarz was running against Republican Chris Collins that Poloncarz would give away the store to his Democratic union supporters. That hasn’t happened.

The county will have to pay upfront for wage increases in order to reduce the costs of benefits, notably the unsustainable burden of fully paid health insurance for retirees. Overall, this agreement is good news for taxpayers.