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Niagara County blue-collar union OKs new contract

LOCKPORT – Members of Niagara County’s blue-collar union have ratified a new contract with the county by more than a 2-to-1 margin, union president William C. Rutland said Friday.

In voting Thursday, the new contract, which gives the workers raises in exchange for contributing to their health insurance premiums regardless of which plan they choose, was approved 73-35. About two-thirds of the members cast ballots for the contract, which is retroactive to 2012 and expires at the end of 2018.

County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said that as long as Rutland and his legal counsel provide signed paperwork, the contract should be on the County Legislature agenda April 21.

“We were able to maintain the excellent level of health care coverage with a new contribution that our members can afford,” said Rutland, head of Local 182, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

The contract adds a new health insurance offering, Catholic Health System’s “First Choice Option,” to the county’s three standard policies, dubbed “value,” “core” and “premium.” Up until now, AFSCME employees, like those in other county unions, didn’t have to contribute to the costs unless they chose the premium plan, in which case they were charged 10 percent of the cost.

Starting in 2016, members who choose the core or value plans will have to pay $100 a month for family coverage or $55 a month for single coverage. Those figures will rise to $120 a month for family and $60 a month for single in 2017, and to $140 for family and $65 for single in 2018, the last year of the contract.

Newly hired employees will have to pay 10 percent regardless of which option they choose.

On the pay side, full-time workers will receive $1,000 lump-sum payments for 2013, while part-timers will be paid $500.

There is a 1.5 percent retroactive raise for all members for 2014, and a 2 percent raise this year, retroactive to Jan. 1. There will be further 2 percent raises in 2016, 2017 and 2018.

Eligible employees who were on the payroll before July 2013 also will be paid an additional “step increase” to settle the union’s grievances over the county’s three-year pay freeze that barred annual automatic increases by moving employees up one step on the pay scale.There is no change in county-paid health insurance for AFSCME members who are already retired.