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Town, workers continue labor contract negotiations

Negotiations on a new labor contract continue between the town of North Elba and some of its employees.

The contract is for workers at the town's Highway Department and landfill.

Speaking during Tuesday night's regular board meeting, Councilman Bob Miller said negotiations could now move into a period of "fact finding," if the union representing the employees chooses to do so.

"We negotiated a proposal which would have offered them a three-year contract with a raise each year, but it would have required them to pay the same amount for their health insurance while they're retired as while they're working," he said. "And they voted it down."

Under the contract, the workers would have received a 2 percent raise annually over the course of the three-year contract.

After declaring that the negotiations had reached an impasse, the town met with a state-appointed mediator on three separate occasions. Miller says the town gave the union a final offer following more than six months of negotiations, but the offer was turned down.

According to attorney Ron Briggs, the negotiations could move to fact finding followed by a legislative hearing. Then, the town could impose a contract mirroring the one that expired at the end of 2010.

After that, Briggs says negotiations would start all over again.

Miller says the town can't punish workers for turning down the contract, but it can take into account a change in economic climate. Last August, the workers were offered a raise, but that was before gas prices increased and the town lost a chunk of state aid.

According to Miller, Gov. Andrew Cuomo is asking state workers to pay 35 percent toward their health insurance. The town is asking its employees to pay 23 percent while on the job.

Miller says much has changed since negotiations began.

"I think the wise thing for us to do is to draft a letter to the union, suggesting to them that we do value what they do, and I know that I speak for everybody who sits at this table, we truly value the work they do," he said. "But we are under pretty severe economic constraints, and we're trying to provide them with the best package that we possibly can."

Supervisor Roby Politi stressed that the contract impasse is not a reflection of the workers themselves, noting that no one is questioning their performance.

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