Essex County Board of Supervisors Chairman Randy Douglas fired back at Civil Service Employees Association brass Tuesday, saying a pay freeze is meant to avoid layoffs, not punish workers.
On Monday, Essex County CSEA President Mike McGinn lambasted county supervisors for even suggesting county laborers forgo their guaranteed raises.
Douglas has repeatedly asked the CSEA - which represents a lion's share of county employees - to come back to the negotiation table and agree to forgo its contractually agreed upon 4.25 percent raise.
"The union can hammer away at me all they want. I was a CSEA member for 15 years and proud to be one," he said. "All I was trying to do is avoid layoffs."
And the Jay Democrat is frustrated that all of his attempts to contact CSEA brass have gone completely unanswered.
The 2008 CSEA contract will cost the cash-strapped county $700,000 in raises over the next two years.
"You take $1.4 million over the next two years, that's a huge increase. It doesn't give us a lot of wiggle room," he said. "I'm scared. I hope things get better in the economy."
Union officials counter that the real governmental waste isn't found in staffing, but in poor management and wasteful programmatic spending.
Douglas points to an instance in 2007 when county supervisors contributed an additional $400,000 above the contractual amount toward employees' health insurance premiums as proof that the board has a history of working with the union.
Douglas said he will not push for legislative action to freeze union pay, as was the case in at least one other New York county.
"I'm not going to bring it to the supervisors to say, 'let's freeze wages in the middle of a contract,'" he said. "I'm going to wait and see what the governor's proposal is."
Last week, Douglas said the move was on the table but he didn't foresee it in the immediate future.
He said he will closely watch pending court battles that are anticipated because of the legislative county pay freezes.