Contractual Disagreement

The Jamestown Board of Public Utilities has imposed a contract extension with its largest labor union.

On Monday, a public hearing was held so representatives from both the BPU and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 459 could discuss the contract that expired April 1. According to a fact-finders report released in May, both parties seem to be in agreement on a new contract except when it comes to bifurcated wages and benefits. The union and management agree that this is the sticking point in the negotiations. The union believes no new contract will be passed with an element of bifurcation, or multiple pay and benefit scales for employees. BPU management has stated some element of bifurcation is essential to a new contract.

Brendan Wolf, International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 459 assistant business manager, said BPU officials have not given any reason why there should be a change in the wage scale and to benefits as part of a new contract. Wolf said BPU officials have not given sufficient financial information why the city-owned utility is under any financial restraint.

In the fact-finder’s report, it stated that BPU management wants changes for new employees; no current employees would be affected. Management wants changes to the sick leave policy, accumulation of sick leave and vacation time and a new wage scale that would change from four to eight steps. The union has stated that these proposed changes would lead to a less homogeneous membership in terms of wages and benefits for all employees.

Wolf said not one member of the union, which represents more than 80 BPU employees who work as customer service, electric, water and wastewater employees, voted for the BPU’s proposed contract. Ross Snyder, who spoke for the BPU, presented a timeline of events since negotiations on a new contract started last fall. The union had been working under a five-year contract. The two sides had been discussing a new three-year contract since September. After contract negotiations failed and the impasse was declared, both parties participated in mediation on March 12 and March 19. After the second session, the mediator advised both parities to proceed with a fact-finder’s report. The fact-finder heard both cases on May 6, and released her report on May 12.

Snyder said BPU staff have suggested not accepting the fact-finder’s recommendations when it comes to pay scale and benefits. The fact-finder had recommended that the proposed wage step change would be too wide to go from four to eight steps. The fact-finder also didn’t agree with the proposed changes to sick leave proposed by management. Snyder said BPU officials recommended the board impose a contract retroactively for one year from April 1 to March 31, 2015. After an executive session, the board voted to impose the one-year contract extension.