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County jail workers declare impasse in contract negotiations, state mediator called in

PLATTSBURGH A state mediator has been called in by the union which represents corrections officers, sergeants and lieutenants working at Clinton County Jail. In a press release issued Feb. 13, CSEA labor relations specialist Emy L. Pombrio, the unions chief negotiator, stated an impasse was declared by the union Feb. 8, following two months of negotiations. Both parties had been at the table since Dec. 13, and continued meeting following the expiration of the unions previous five-year contract Dec. 31. We were hoping by bringing a mediator in, that there will be an objective read to both sides, said Ms. Pombrio. Kind of a dose of realty to get some traction and get the parties off their spots. The majority of the sticking points under debate for a new contract, said Ms. Pombrio, center on wages and staffing-related issues. A study conducted by the CSEA research department reportedly showed those serving in similar positions at facilities comparable in size across the state earned more than Clinton County employees. The study, which utilized figures from 2006, found Clinton County correction officers were paid 10 percent below average; sergeants were paid 25 percent below average; and lieutenants were paid 73 percent below average. It turned out that these guys are behind, Ms. Pombrio said. They really wanted something that brought them in line with their counterparts in the state. While the study consisted of facilities of like size when compared to the 300-bed Clinton County Jail, Clinton County Legislature chairman James R. Langley Jr. stated from what he has seen, the study did not take into account counties of comparable populations and median incomes. They didnt take any counties of the same size. I didnt see Essex in there or Franklin or St. Lawrence, said Mr. Langley, citing Clinton Countys population of roughly 79,000 people. Rockland County was one comparison made in the study, he said, which contained a population of 286,753 according to the 2000 U.S. Census. While populations of Essex and Franklin counties were recorded as being lower than Clinton County in 2000, at 38,851 and 51,134, respectively, Mr. Langley said he would have considered them more comparative than Rockland County, which rests on the Pennsylvania border near Long Island. Rockland County? I mean, how far away is that, asked Mr. Langley. They didnt even look at Jefferson County and theyve got a population of about 100,000 and theyre very similar in general incomes and so forth. It just doesnt make any sense. In response to the unions findings, Ms. Pombrio said the county only offered employees wage increases of 1.5 percent per year in a five-year deal. The offer was particularly disheartening, she said, considering the legislature approved a 30 percent pay increase for Sheriff David N. Favro in the 2008-09 county budget. The sheriff and the county are able to justify a $17,000 raise for the sheriff, Ms. Pombrio stated, but they cant find reasonable money for the people who keep the jail running. Ms. Pombrio further stated the county could justify wage increases for correction officers through a portion of the millions in revenue generated by the housing inmates at the jail under federal contracts. The 2005 expansion of the jail has further led to serious understaffing at the facility, according to a report from the state Department of Correctional Services, she added. The jail currently employs 82 officers, though a staffing analysis conducted last year by the department recommended a staffing level of 94 officers to run the jail safely. Its just a staggering number, and if you look at what that equates to in wages and salaries, these guys have had mandated overtime through the roof, said Ms. Pombrio. Theyre tired, theyre worn out, and theyve looked at a facility that has generated revenue for the county. The demand for the expansion of the jail is what Mr. Langley considers another unfunded mandate from the state with which the county had no choice but to comply. The revenues for the jail are up, however, that is a $23 million expansion which the state forced down our throat, which the county taxpayers pay for, said Mr. Langley. Its not like we decided we were going to build this huge monstrosity of a jail ... The fact of the matter is, thats a $90,000 a month payment or an extra $1,080,000 a year that has to be paid for the next 30 years. That payment, said Mr. Langley, is further burdened by the existing 30-year bond payment for the jails original construction the county must continue to make until 2017. Those payments amount to $567,000 a year, according to figures provided by Greg Bell, with the county treasurers office. In addition, as the amount of prisoners who populate the jail rises, so do cost for their care such as medical care and prescription drugs, which is a tremendous amount shouldered by the county and the taxpayers, said Mr. Langley. Regardless, Ms. Pombrio said the county has rejected repeated requests to add staff to the recommended levels and primarily only fills vacancies. New deputy sheriffs positions established at Plattsburgh International Airport, have also caused irritation with the union, as the need there for additional staff isnt nearly as great as that faced by the corrections officers for the past three years, Ms. Pombrio stated. Unfortunately, right now were pretty far apart on what is being felt is necessary to continue the contract, said Mr. Langley. We just get the distinct feeling that they dont want to negotiate. But, were going to work through it, he added. This comes down to business decisions, said Ms. Pombrio. Were spending a lot of money on litigation and attorney fees that really could be put on the table to resolve some of these issues. The county and the union now await the assignment of a mediator from the state Employment Relations Board to facilitate the reaching of an agreement between the two parties.

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