By Michael Regan
The Tonawanda News
— While the North Tonawanda Common Council and the Niagara County Legislature are both expected to vote on — and pass — an inter-municiple agreement to transfer six police dispatchers to the sheriff’s office by July 1, union leaders representing the dispatchers said they have yet to sign off on the deal.
CSEA Local 832 President Bill Davignon said the heart of union’s objection is what they see as an unfair transfer of seniority. If the transfer is made, the dispatchers would become county employees as well as members of the Deputy Sheriffs Association Union.
Davignon said the contract currently protecting city dispatchers differs in the timing of step increases from that of county workers. If their present seniority were calculated under the county contract, some members would be brought in at a lower place in the county’s pecking order than they presently have with the city. Seniority governs things like shift assignments, vacation time requests and holiday schedules, Davignon said.
“We feel the employees should be able to transfer the seniority to the county in all matters,” he said. “We have to meet with the city again on this. For them to say we have a deal is premature. The city is trying to fast track this and you can’t fast track something like this.”
Davignon said two of the six dispatchers have 12 years of experience, while the least senior member of the department has been employed with the city for seven years. He noted that the transfer of vacation and sick time need to be addressed as well.
“Our main objective is to protect the rights of the union employees to ensure their time spent with the city would account for something and (is) not rendered meaningless,” he said.
Mayor Rob Ortt said the city and the county have properly vetted all the details related to the transfer and that th
e deal complies with the state’s civil service laws. Ortt added that the city and county have offered a $1,400 travel stipend for the first year of the move as an added incentive. As county employees, the dispatchers will be eligible for larger raises in the future, as well. Niagara County is not under a wage freeze, as North Tonawanda is.
When asked about the union’s position on seniority by the News on Thursday, Ortt made it clear he thought city’s p
resent offer is plenty generous.
“The city council and myself are going above and beyond to address all their concerns,” Ortt said. “They’re getting a larger raise, additional stipend for the rest of the year, better health benefits — when is it enough? To me it’s a standard money grab. The public employees unions’ image is at a low point. I really believe it’s things like this” that are the reason why.
Ortt said he plans to talk to Davignon today and meet with several dispatchers next week.
Davignon said while some of the dispatchers have been involved with occasional talks, the union has only met with the mayor once. He also said his union members have yet to sign an agreement. Should negotiations further erode, the union would then move to arbitration, which if not resolved could delay the transfer beyond the city- and county-projected July 1 deadline — or scuttle it entirely if an arbitrator sides with the union.
Davignon said the two sides are not to that point yet and he’s prepared to remain at the bargaining table to resolve the seniority-related issues.
“Right now we want to keep continue negotiating,” he said.