Share this article

print logo

Union votes no confidence in Town of Hamburg supervisor

Union workers will submit a vote of no confidence in Hamburg Supervisor Steven Walters Monday night, according to the Civil Service Employees Association.

CSEA Region 6 announced the no confidence vote in a tweet Monday afternoon.

The vote was prompted by changes in health insurance costs that would have cost some employees $900 to $1,200 more this year. Some Town of Hamburg workers started the new year facing the increases for their share of health insurance.

The increases weren’t due to a change in contracts, and the five unions objected. The town backed down.

But the controversy prompted union members to vote they have no confidence in the supervisor, and lodge a complaint with the district attorney’s office, several sources in the town said.

In addition to that labor kerfuffle, the town sent layoff notices to 72 workers in December, then rescinded those and laid off 51 other employees.

The change in health insurance rates would have generated about $80,000 in revenue for the town this year through payroll deductions.

The town offers two health plans, and employees, depending on their years of service and their union contract, either don’t pay for health insurance, or contribute up to 25 percent of the cost. As an incentive for employees to choose the lower priced plan, their contributions are reduced by the difference in costs between the two rates.

In the past, that meant employees who get the cheaper plan and must contribute 5 percent or 10 percent of the cost did not have to pay anything.

But when the new rates came out, which some union members charged were artificially manipulated, unions filed grievances, and the town upheld the grievances.

“There was a question about what could be negotiated unilaterally by the town and what couldn’t be,” Supervisor Steven Walters said.

He said the town declined to fight the grievances in an effort to foster a good labor-management relationship.

The change was made before money was deducted from anyone’s pay this year, but the episode left workers disgruntled. Sources with the town said the unions held votes of no confidence in the supervisor, and a complaint was made to the Erie County district attorney’s office. A spokeswoman for the district attorney said the office could not confirm or deny that a complaint was made.

Health insurance is one thing. Losing work is another.

Late last year, the Town Board decided to lay off two full-time workers in the highway and buildings and grounds departments to close a budget gap blamed on the increase in health care costs.

But then the board found out that under the union contract, all the part-time and seasonal workers in those departments had to be terminated before the two full-time workers, and notices were sent out to 72 workers in December.

That didn’t sit well with many people, who said the laid off workers were instrumental in the running of town facilities, such as Woodlawn Beach State Park and Eighteen Mile Creek Golf Course, which would suffer from the loss of workers.

At its first meeting this year, the board voted to instead lay off 30 part-time or seasonal workers from the recreation department, 19 from buildings and grounds as well as one in assessing and one full-time clerk in the justice courts.

The full-time clerk’s father is a member of the Hamburg Republican Committee, leading some to wonder whether the clerk’s termination was political.

Several other Republican party members got pink slips, including town GOP Chairwoman Barbara Lipka, who had been a part-time recreation attendant since 2011.

Councilman Michael Quinn, who also is the town’s Democratic chairman, said finances, not politics, were the guide to the layoffs.

“It’s not political,” he said. “We were looking for cuts and we found cuts. We’ve all got to make cuts.”

He said he and Board Member Tom Best Jr. talked to department heads to get their input on how and where to cut without damaging services. The recreation employees were holdovers from last year, and the board wants everyone to make a new job application each summer.

A part-time position is to be created in the justice court, with the laid off clerk having the first opportunity to fill it, he said.

But for the others, he added, “Just because they apply also does not mean they will get their job back.”

email: bobrien@buffnews.com