JOHNSTOWN - An initial fact-finding session July 13 between Fulton County government and its 285-member General Unit union resulted in no new contract, and both sides will meet again in September.
Both sides are at impasse and the union's last contracts expired at the end of 2009. The fact-finding session was conducted five days after members of the union picketed the lack of a new contract with signs outside the County Office Building.
Leaders for the county and the union - Local 818, Civil Service Employees Association - met for the first time July 13 in Johnstown with state Public Employment Relations Board-assigned fact-finder Gordon Mayo of East Greenbush.
"It didn't really go very far," Local 818 President Ronald Briggs said Wednesday. "We spent the first two hours trying to figure out ways to get a contract, then he adjourned the meeting."
Briggs said the second fact-finding session is scheduled for sometime in September in Johnstown, although an exact date hasn't been chosen yet.
He said it is troubling contract talks for his unit are now in the fact-finding stage.
"The county has at least a 60-year history of negotiating with its employees and this is the first time it's gone to fact-finding," Briggs said. "I don't think it's a good thing."
Fact-finding is one of the last steps in the negotiating process. According to the PERB website, a fact-finder "inquires into the causes and circumstances of the impasse, along with the positions being advanced by the parties on the disputed issues, through oral and/or written testimony, exhibits, briefs." The fact-finder is empowered only to make recommendations to resolve impasse. PERB has discretion to authorize appointment of a conciliator to provide additional mediation after issuance of a fact-finder's report.
Briggs said Mayo didn't comment during the first session, and will "just give his opinion" at the end of the fact-finding process.
The Board of Supervisors recently approved a new five-year contract with another county union. The new pact with the smaller, seven-member county Nurses Unit 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.
Briggs said what the county is asking the General Unit union to agree to "differs" from the nursing negotiations. But he did say the county wants his union to take no raises during certain years of what is currently being negotiated.
Board of Supervisors Chairman Michael F. Gendron, who didn't attend the July 13 session, said Wednesday he didn't want to characterize the negotiating process as it heads deeper into fact-finding.
"I can't respond how the county will feel," Gendron said. "I look at it as a process of collective bargaining. I look at all these things as a part of democracy. I don't look at it personally."
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.