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Former union chief named county labor relations head

Steven Miller, a past president of Local 1129 of the Communication Workers of America, was appointed Monday to serve as the county’s new labor relations commissioner.

The post had gone unfilled since David A. Palmer left the job after being appointed personnel commissioner a year ago.

Miller’s tenure with Local 1129 included duties as chief negotiator for the union. He also worked arbitration and grievance advocacy.

Erie County Executive Mark C. Poloncarz said Miller brings to the post a broad set of skills and an understanding of issues from the perspectives of both labor and management, which will be useful to the county in upcoming contract negotiations.

“My administration has placed a high priority on settling union contracts fairly, with resulting savings to county residents totaling nearly $136 million. Foresight and fiscal prudence are critical to completing the task, and I look forward to working with Steven on future labor relations issues,” Poloncarz said in a written release.

The appointment does require approval by the County Legislature, according to Peter A. Anderson, a spokesman for the county executive.

Nevertheless, when informed about the extent of Miller’s background, Legislature Chairman John J. Mills questioned how it could be tenable for the county to have a chief negotiator whose only experience has been negotiating on behalf of unions.

“I would be hesitant to hire anybody who was on one side of the negotiating table over his life. How could you possibly have a clear head as to both sides of the issues?” Mills said.

“I don’t see where it’s a workable situation. It seems to me like we’re giving away the store,” Mills added.

Anderson said the value Miller brings, from the perspective of those negotiating for the county, is that he understands the issues from both sides of the table, including what is important to labor and what is fair and reasonable from management’s perspective.

“He will be a great asset in upcoming negotiations,” Anderson said via email Monday when asked about Miller’s background.

He noted that Palmer, Miller’s immediate predecessor, also worked as a negotiator for CWA before his appointment as the county’s labor relations commissioner. Anderson said the result was that the county was able to amicably settle several contracts with its public employee unions.

For his part, Miller, in a written statement released by the administration, said he was looking forward to using his experience to build on the Poloncarz administration’s accomplishments with regard to future contract negotiations.

“The knowledge and skills I have acquired over the course of my career will be an asset when balancing the needs of workers and the citizens of Erie County,” Miller said.

In addition to his work for Local 1129, Miller also has served as president of the Northeast Central Labor Council of the AFL-CIO He has represented workers in health care, manufacturing, telecommunications and clerical.

The post is budgeted to pay $99,349, though his actual salary was not immediately announced.