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Laid-off Lockport streets workers rehired, will receive back pay

LOCKPORT – As the city begins its summer paving program Tuesday, four Highways and Parks Department employees who were laid off last fall have been called back to work, with each receiving back pay of about $9,600, the city’s labor attorney said Monday.

The callbacks were part of a settlement of a grievance the city’s blue-collar union filed last fall, asserting the city violated an agreement with the union by laying off the four men.

Albany-based attorney Bryan J. Goldberger said the settlement worked out Friday at the offices of the state Public Employment Relations Board does not include any admission by the city that the layoffs violated any agreement with the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees.

In a contract approved in 2009, AFSCME agreed to allow the privatization of city garbage collection, which was done by AFSCME workers, in exchange for a no-layoff promise. Goldberger said the city believes that clause covered only layoffs of the former garbage workers because of the privatization, which took effect in 2011.

“The action the city took in 2014 wasn’t related to garbage collection. It was related to ‘no money,’ ” Goldberger said.

The workers’ salaries, as well as their back pay, will be funded through an $800,000 state Department of Transportation grant that the city received this spring.

“It was not sought for that purpose, but it did help address it,” Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said.

She said settling the grievance was a cost-saver for the city. “I feel like the city has a strong position, but it did help avoid the litigation,” McCaffrey said.

It hasn’t been decided yet whether the four men will stay on the job once the paving money is spent. The mayor said the city will have to examine its financial position later in the year before that decision is made.

Goldberger said, “We’re not making any false promises and we’re not making any proclamations of doom and gloom,” Goldberger said. “For the moment, there was mutual benefit.”

That benefit means four more men to work on street repairs and other duties in the department, raising its roster from 24 workers to 28.

McCaffrey said the Pennsylvania milling company the city hired will begin work Tuesday on Pine and High streets. The bumpy pavement is to be milled off Davison Road on Wednesday. The Thursday-Friday schedule includes Vine, Chestnut and Market streets, with Hawley Street set for Monday.

West Main Street also might be milled Monday, but that might be delayed if emergency repairs to a collapsing sewer aren’t done in time, the mayor said. Once the milling is done, the repaving will be completed by city crews, not necessarily in the same order in which the streets are milled, McCaffrey said. More streets are to be milled and repaved later this summer.