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AUGUST 19 - AUGUST 27, 2014

As Dispute Heats Up Between CSEA and Lewiston Sup. Brochey, Some Solutions offered

By Anna M. Howard

August 19, 2014

Lewiston Supervisor Dennis Brochey.

During the last two weeks we have reported on the controversy between the Town of Lewiston and the CSEA Union workers at the Sewer Plant over a three percent raise paid for a time then rescinded.

It seems as if the two sides can't find any common ground to begin to work from and are in fact speaking two completely different languages or deliberately trying to misunderstand each other.

But it doesn't help that so many conflicting statements have been made.

Following this entire situation is like watching a tennis match as the ball keeps getting hit from one side of the court to the other.

The unionized workers seem as though they do not want to acknowledge the administration's assessment of town finances.

Town Supervisor Dennis Brochey is no doubt right in saying that the town "can't afford to spend money it does not have."

But the employees are pointing to the fact that after both he and Finance Director Paul Kloosterman repeatedly told everyone that town is "facing a "$500,000 shortfall this year" they are now publically stating that "Lewiston is not broke."

The local CSEA union leaders are saying that they have a letter of agreement that justifies the three percent raise they have been receiving since January first of this year.

But New York's largest union surely must realize that just a letter from management does not ratify a contract.

There should not have been any raise in wages or any change in terms unless a new agreement had been signed and ratified by both the town board and the rank and file union members. So the town is correct in saying that the sewer workers are still working under the terms of their old contract and should not have received any increase in salary.

After the contract talks finally broke down the Town Attorney Mark Davis sent each employee a letter demanding the return of what he and Brochey are correctly calling an "illegal gift" of the three percent increase.

Workers will have to pay back hundreds of dollars or face legal action. The union is taking the position that because the town supervisor was aware of the overpayment for months that he was the one who actually violated the law and they should not have to return those wages.

But the fact remains that no matter who broke the law it is still an illegal gift and they must return the money to the town.

Both sides haven't helped the situation with their comments and threats. Brochey has said that if the workers walk off the job he would have replacements for them the next day.

CSEA has now sent a letter to the town threatening to file an unfair labor practice charge if the town's demand for repayment of wages to the workers isn't retracted.

Finance Director Paul Kloosterman has been openly saying that new employees should not be paid $21 per hour but should start at $15 per hour and not receive any raises "until they have proven themselves." And the employees have been referring to an attorney who is only performing his job duties as a "Hitman."

Every one of the above statements is needlessly inflammatory, counterproductive, senseless, and can only serve to drive the two parties further apart.

Civil service workers who walk off their jobs in New York can legally be fired. But the fact is that if they ever did and there were no NYS licensed operators available the sewer plant would actually have to close.

The CSEA is wrong in saying the demand letters were a violation of the Taylor Law and threatening to file unfair labor charges. The letter has nothing to do with changes to anyone's "terms and conditions of employment." It is simply pointing out a fact of law and ensures that the agreement is actually followed.

Kloosterman should perhaps keep silent on policy matters and focus on financial issues unless he thinks that until he has "proven" himself he should make $42,000 (what former finance director Mike Johnson earned) and not his current salary of $60,000.

And the union workers should agree to return wages they know they aren't entitled to keep.

It's time for everyone involved to take a deep breath, sit down, and look for a way to work things out.

A bit of respect, restraint, and facing realities by both sides will go a long way towards getting a deal done.









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