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Some members of CSEA challenge vote on Niagara County contract

LOCKPORT – Some members of Niagara County’s largest public employees union are challenging the validity of the Jan. 6 vote to ratify a new contract with the county.

More than 30 members reportedly have signed form letters to the state headquarters of the Civil Service Employees Association, asking for a revote and contending that “union officials failed to provide adequate safeguards to ensure a fair election.”

It was unclear whether the protest would prevent the County Legislature from taking its scheduled ratification vote at Tuesday night’s meeting. County Attorney Claude A. Joerg said Monday that he knew nothing of the challenge. County Manager Jeffrey M. Glatz and Legislature Chairman W. Keith McNall, R-Lockport, did not return calls seeking comment.

The contract was ratified by a union vote of 353 to 302, a heavy turnout for a union with about 800 members.

The letter, dated last Wednesday, was provided to The Buffalo News by an opponent of the contract who sought anonymity for fear of retribution from union leaders.

Sue Young, president of the CSEA’s Niagara County unit, said Monday that she didn’t know anything about the letter. “I have not seen it and have heard nothing from the CSEA region office regarding the letter,” she said.

The CSEA’s regional and statewide offices were closed Monday because of the Martin Luther King Jr. holiday.

The letter contends that no measures were taken to ensure that members couldn’t vote more than once. Allegedly, the names of people who voted were not crossed off the eligibility list; some voters were given more than one ballot; voters’ identification was not checked; and there allegedly were no provisions in place to stop people from voting at more than one site.

The balloting was held at three county-owned sites, one office each in Lockport, Niagara Falls and North Tonawanda.

“There were no voting booths, screens, partitions or curtains provided to ensure union member privacy when voting, resulting in members feeling pressured to vote based on the ballots of those members around them,” the letter alleged.

The box that was taken to the union’s local headquarters from the Lockport voting site wasn’t the same box used at the site, a member asserted, and it took as long as an hour and 15 minutes to take the boxes from the polling sites to the union office in Lockport.

An opponent of the contract told The News that those who voted no objected to the lack of language to prevent the county from again freezing the workers’ annual “step increases” in pay, which the county did from 2011-14.

“Many of us have lost in excess of $5,000 in pay due to wage freezes,” the source said. The proposed contract would give members $2,000 in lump-sum payments before taxes, plus 2 percent annual raises from 2015 through 2019.

Also, workers hired after 2002 would have to pay 10 percent of their health insurance premiums starting in 2019, after making monthly payments from the ratification date until 2019. But because there is no cap on costs, no one can say how much that will be, the opponent said.