WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- County Executive Robert Astorino announced Tuesday that a mediator will be brought in to help drag the Republican administration and Westchester's largest union, the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), out of a bargaining impasse.
The New York State Public Employment Relations Board will appoint a mediator who will fill an advisory-only role, according to Ned McCormack, a press representative for Astorino's office.
"We want to move the process along and I think a third party will understand our concerns because they’re very straight forward," said McCormack. "The mediator's role is advisory, it's not binding."
"As long as union leaders keep insisting that taxpayers pick up the entire $100 million cost of their members' health care, the county will have no choice but to eliminate more and more jobs going forward. We can’t employ people that we can’t pay for. The math doesn’t work any other way," Astorino said in a statement.
McCormack said the county executive may have to send out more pink slips before the 2013 budget accounting begins if departments, such as social services, wind up running out of funding.
The county administration accused CSEA of causing the impasse by stalling talks. According to Astorino's office, CSEA began bargaining in August despite a stipulation in its contract stating that the union would begin talks a month earlier. The union's contract will expire after Dec. 31.
The administration said the CSEA's sole health care contribution plan called for its approximately 3,300 members to pay $120 a year towards family health plans that cost approximately $20,000 annually. The county executive said this proposal was tied to wage and benefit increases, which proved union leaders "do not understand the financial realities facing everyone in Westchester."
CSEA President Karen Pecora said the union was eager to reach an agreement, but grew frustrated when Astorino's administration refused to explore negotiations that didn't involve health care contributions.
"No matter how long we met, we felt that we weren’t going to get anywhere because they did not want to move off of this one issue and we had other issues we wanted to negotiate," said Pecora. "We hope that a mediator will come in and maybe move the process along a little bit."
CSEA released a statement characterizing Astorino's stance as "bullying and threatening the CSEA work force," which would not bring the union "closer to a contract." CSEA said it never refused to consider Astorino's plan, but felt it was unfair that the administration wouldn't contemplate the 30 proposals the union designed to save the county money.