MAYVILLE – Chautauqua County has finally reached a new contract agreement with its largest collective bargaining unit.
On Wednesday night the Chautauqua County Legislature approved a new contract agreement with the CSEA Unit 6300. The agreement includes a high deductible health care plan, a 2-percent wage increase (retroactive to January 2015) and a 2 percent wage increase for 2016 and 2017.
The vote was 16 to 2, with legislators John Runkle (R-Stockton) and Bob Scudder (R-Fredonia) voting against the agreement. Runkle said he was against the contract, given the current and future economic climate of the county with the recent closure of the Con Agra plant and the possible closure of NRG.
“While still reeling from the Con Agra loss [of an estimated 400 jobs] and its economic ramifications, we are now confronted with another potentially devastating loss with the possible closure of NRG,” Runkle said while reading a prepared statement prior to the vote. “The economic ramifications of a potential NRG closure are obvious. We will be looking at an estimated loss of $1.7 million in county tax revenue per year should this plant be closed. Additionally, the people of Dunkirk would see an additional 40 to 50 percent increase in both their school and city property taxes should this occur.”
Runkle said he was also concerned with the strain the new contract will put on the county’s structural deficit, considering it includes a 2 percent salary increase. “With this proposed labor contract, and I point out here its completely non-mandated, we are adding an additional $3.5 million to this so-called structural deficit over the next two years.”
Despite Runkle’s concerns, other lawmakers say that while the contract does a salary increase, it also contains cost-saving measures.
“The savings – which I think are significant – is coming from the area of health benefits,” explained legislator Terry Niebel (R-Dunkirk). “While I personally think that a 2 percent raise is excessive, it has been pointed out to me that this is a six-year contract and the average salary increase would be 1 percent per year.”
Following the vote, County Executive Vince Horrigan said he was pleased that a deal could finally be reached and that all labor unions in county government are now working under contract.
“It’s a good contract that will take us out over six years,” Horrigan said. “They’ve been working without a contract for three-and-a-half years so I’m pleased with this. I think it’s fair. It’s good for the county, it’s good for the tax payers and it’s good for the employees.””
The CSEA had been working without a contract since the start of 2012. The new agreement is retroactive and would cover the years 2012 through 2017 and involves more than 900 county employees, who ratified the contract earlier this month.