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Negotiations stalled between Franklin board, highway employees

VERMONTVILLE - Contract negotiations between the town of Franklin and highway department employees have officially stalled, as both sides can't agree on the rate of pay increases for the next three years.

On Jan. 4, the town board declared the negotiations at an impasse after its final offer to union representatives on Dec. 8 didn't even garner a response.

And for outgoing Franklin Supervisor Mary Ellen Keith, the utter lack of progress is a frustration, especially considering what she calls the extra perks of municipal employment.

Keith said that she believes the union is holding out for the next administration, which takes office Jan. 1 under Supervisor-elect Art Wilman, in the hopes that they may get a better deal.

"I am really disappointed in the highway department that they did not accept this 6 percent increase over the next three years," Keith said. "This is an addition to the benefits of 12 holidays, five personal days, sick time, clothing allowance, vacation, bereavement and a Cadillac health insurance plan with employee contributions of 15 percent of the total cost of the premium."

According to sources close to the story, town highway employees wanted an annual 6 percent pay increase over the next three years or an 18 percent raise by 2013.

But in uncertain economic conditions, the town is only willing to dole out one-third of that amount, instead offering annual two-percent increases.

The current contract for the town's seven highway employees expires Dec. 31 and with an impasse officially declared, highway crews will spend at-least part of 2010 without an agreement.

Their pay and benefits will remain at current levels until a new agreement is reached, but they will be required to cover most of the costs associated with their health care coverage.

In fiscal year 2008-2009, the annual income for Franklin Highway Department employees ranged from $25,659 to $33,870 with the average worker earning about $31,000.

The negotiations will be going to arbitration in the coming months.

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