JOHNSTOWN - Fulton County's negotiations with one of its unions have stretched on since 2009, longer than any before. A state fact-finder's report on the contract talks is expected by the end of the year, and while it may shed light on the situation, officials representing both sides said this week the report may not end the three-year impasse.
A state fact-finder in Albany may soon make his decision in protracted negotiations between Fulton County government and its 285-member General Unit union. Both sides are at impasse and the union's last contracts expired at the end of 2009.
"We're hoping for a final decision in about a month, but that's rough," Ronald Briggs, president of Local 818 of the Civil Service Employees Association, said Tuesday. "Right now, we just wait till he issues it."
Both the county and the General Unit have been meeting this year with state Public Employment Relations Board-assigned fact-finder Gordon Mayo.
Briggs said both sides were required to turn in briefs and closing arguments in the form of paperwork that had to be submitted to Mayo by Nov. 13.
"We put into writing where our side is," the union leader said.
Perth Supervisor Greg Fagan, chairman of the Fulton County Board of Supervisors' Finance Committee, said today this is the longest negotiations have ever gone on between the county and its major union, and it still isn't over yet.
"We've never been through this before," the supervisor said.
Briggs added, "It's the first time we've done it."
Fagan said county management - in the form of the "fact-finding team" of Personnel Department Director Theresa Souza, County Administrative Officer Jon Stead and Bleecker Supervisor David Howard - was also due to submit briefs to Mayo. He agreed the next step is for Mayo to make a non-binding decision.
"In this situation, it's a panel of one," Fagan said.
According to the PERB website, the 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
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testimony, exhibits, briefs, etc. The fact finder may hold a hearing to receive such evidence. If deemed appropriate, the fact finder may conduct a limited amount of mediation during the course of his or her assignment."
Briggs and Fagan both said it was their understanding that if either party rejects Mayo's final fact-finding determination, the process would continue.
That process, officials said, might entail the Board of Supervisors ultimately issuing a "legislative imposition" in which its decision would be final, but for only one year. The new contract might just be for 2010, and negotiations would have to start up again for subsequent years.
Union leaders say they acknowledge the county's difficult financial status and they are willing to forgo salary increases. The two sides have not explained publicly what elements of the contract have been the subject of disagreement.
County officials also have upcoming contracts to resolve with two of its other unions - the Fulton County Deputy Sheriff's Police Benevolent Association and the Fulton County Sheriff's Office Employees Alliance.
The Board of Supervisors on Sept. 10 passed a local law setting salaries for non-union county department heads and elected officials in a five-year deal. They were given 1.5 percent to 2 percent increases the next two years, but no increase in wages from 2010-12.
Michael Anich covers Johnstown and Fulton County news. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.