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3-2 vote defeats proposal to add three aldermen to Lockport labor negotiation team

LOCKPORT – A move to add aldermen to the city’s labor negotiation team failed at Wednesday’s Common Council meeting, but the issue could resurface.

The proposal to add three aldermen to the bargaining team failed in a 3-2 vote, with Aldermen Joseph P. Oates, R-1st Ward, and Richard E. Abbott, D-5th Ward, voting no. Council President David R. Wohleben, R-4th Ward, was absent. Four votes were needed for approval.

The resolution was introduced by Alderman R. Joseph O’Shaughnessy, D-at large, backed by Aldermen Mark S. Devine, R-3rd Ward, and Anita Mullane, D-2nd Ward.

O’Shaughnessy said that there has been little progress in union talks since 2013, except for the settlement with the police union. “We have to move forward here for the morale of the city,” he said. “It’s not fair for our union workers to be involved in something like this.”

“I’m open to having Council participation,” Mayor Anne E. McCaffrey said. She preferred adding two aldermen to the bargaining team, which also includes the corporation counsel, city clerk and director of finance. But she feared that adding three of them – half the Council – to the mayor’s presence might trigger the Open Meetings Law. McCaffrey presides over Council meetings and can vote if there is a tie.

Former Alderman Scott A. Cercone pooh-poohed that from the audience. “When I was on the Council, there were three of us in the (bargaining) room. None of us got arrested,” he said.

Devine said that if the Open Meetings Law were triggered, an executive session could be called for negotiations, and Deputy Corporation Counsel David J. Haylett Jr. agreed.

Mullane said, “In the last election, the public sent a clear message: The public wants more transparency.”

Haylett said the state’s Taylor Law, which governs public employee bargaining, gives the mayor the power to negotiate. “Any intrusion by the legislative body must be with the approval of the parties,” he said.

O’Shaughnessy said he might try the idea again after more discussion. “I can’t see what the damage is,” he said. “All it is, is what’s best for the community.”

McCaffrey said aldermen have seldom been included in bargaining since she came to City Hall four years ago. Former Alderman Patrick W. Schrader said that it was more common under Mayor Michael W. Tucker for aldermen to be included.

McCaffrey said she has bargaining sessions coming up in the next few weeks with the city’s white- and blue-collar unions, but a March 15 contract arbitration session with the firefighters has been postponed indefinitely.

Firefighters union President Kevin W. Pratt said the union needs to have the city’s audited 2015 financial results, which may not be available until May, and that was why the union sought a postponement of the trial-like hearing.

Asked whether a delay of two months or more might yield an opportunity to settle the firefighter contract at the bargaining tale, Pratt said, “That’s our hope, but there’s absolutely no intent on the part of the city’s CEO to negotiate with the firefighters.”

McCaffrey said the union called an impasse. “They have to remove the impasse before we can negotiate,” she said.

“There’s no truth to that,” Pratt responded, adding that he confirmed that with an official of the state Public Employment Relations Board, which will supply an arbitrator to preside over the hearing.