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Legislature OKs ‘fair’ pact with union

LOCKPORT – The Niagara County Legislature unanimously ratified a new labor contract Tuesday with the county’s blue-collar union, whose members receive pay increases in exchange for a union agreement for all members to begin paying a share of their health insurance premiums, which was a major goal of the county’s negotiating team.

Members of Local 182, American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, approved the agreement by a vote of 73-35, a turnout of about two-thirds of the union membership, on March 19.

The retroactive contract gives full-time workers a lump-sum payment of $1,000 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. Further 2 percent raises will be paid in 2016, 2017 and 2018. “I think this is a reasonable rate that we are accepting,” County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz said. “I believe this is more than a fair agreement for both parties.”

In order to pay for the raises, the Legislature appropriated more than $400,000 from its surplus funds.

On the health care front, AFSCME members will begin to pay flat amounts each year for membership in the county’s two least expensive insurance plans, called “core” and “value.”

Starting in 2016, members who choose those 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.

Up to now, the only workers paying health insurance premiums were those who chose the county’s costliest option, the “premium” plan; they have to pay 10 percent. A fourth option, the Catholic Health System’s “First Choice,” is being added to the health insurance options.

There is no change in county-paid health insurance for retirees.

To settle the union’s grievances over the county’s three-year pay freeze, which barred annual automatic increases for employees moving up one step on the pay scale, eligible workers who were on the payroll before July 2013 will be paid an additional “step increase.”