JOHNSTOWN - Fulton County government's unionized workers picketed outside the County Office Building on Monday, protesting the lack of a new contract.
Some workers later spoke inside at a county Board of Supervisors meeting.
Members of the 285-member General Unit union of Local 818, Civil Service Employees Association, picketed, carrying red-and-black signs stating, "Contract Now." The union's last contracts expired at the end of 2009. The union includes county employees such as clerks, support staff and workers from the Social Services, Highway and Facilities and Solid Waste departments.
Fulton County employees with Local 818, Civil Service Employees Association, picket the lack of a new contract outside the County Office Building in Johnstown on Monday.
The Leader-Herald/Michael Anich
After about 30 minutes of picketing, members of the union crammed into the board's monthly meeting inside the supervisor's chambers at the County Office Building. Several spoke about the contract impasse and a state fact-finding session looming Friday.
Late in the meeting, the board approved a new five-year contract with the smaller, seven-member county Nurses Unit. That agreement calls for wages to be frozen retroactively for 2010-12, a 1.5 percent pay increase in 2013 and 2 percent wage increase in 2014.
During picketing, Local 818 President Ronald Briggs said the General Unit decided to picket Monday to "remind people" the union members have been working for 2 1/2 years without a contract. He said his members just want "respect and dignity" for the job they do.
Later during the public-speaker portion of the meeting, Briggs, a Probation Department employee from Gloversville, told supervisors they, as county "bosses," have an important job in recognizing what their workers do every day for the county.
"It is time for all of you to act like a boss and help out," Briggs said.
He said although the county work force has declined 10 percent in recent years, county government services to the public are still being met.
On the picket line, Department of Social Services caseworker Elizabeth Slade said the union members want to be fairly compensated. The latest offer from the county calls for no pay raises for most of the length of the contract, similar to the new Nurses Unit contract.
"We need a fair contract and not the same old contract," Slade said.
Barbara Handy of Mayfield, who worked at the former county Residential Health Care Facility before it was privatized, told the board, "It's time to stop disrespecting us. Give us a contract we can live with."
Handy said Local 818 members are "wondering how much longer we're expected to work without a contract."
She also derided the fact some of the ongoing negotiations have not been face to face.
Handy said county management also cries the county has "no money" but has money for pay raises for department heads such as Administrative Officer Jon Stead, who received a double-digit raise in 2010.
"I don't buy it," Handy said.
Another DSS caseworker, Joseph Maher of Johnstown, said he is part of the negotiating team for the General Unit. After the last fruitless bargaining session, he said eager union members asked how talks went and he had to tell them "no good." He said the county is "taking stuff off the board" as it continues to negotiate, with the latest proposal basically amounting to a 3-cent-per-hour raise.
"My co-workers are basically insulted," Maher said.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at email@example.com.