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Peekskill Unions Protest Over Contracts, Grievance

PEEKSKILL, N.Y. -- Several dozen of the city’s public works employees held a protest across the street from city hall before Monday night’s city council meeting, demanding that the city treat them with respect in relation to the ongoing labor negotiations and grievances.

The members of the local 456 Teamsters union were joined by members of the city’s police and fire departments and their union representatives in claiming the city was not adhering to previously negotiated contracts and had reneged on labor deals made with the unions.

“Right now all organized labor -- the fire, police and the Teamsters -- are taking a stand against the City of Peekskill for the unfair treatment they’re giving us,” said Local 456 president Louis Picani. “They’re failing to adhere to the collective bargaining agreements that everybody has here. They are violating everything we have negotiated over the years, we’re in court for a lot of issues. They’ve just taken the law into their own hands. They’re not going by what we have over the years negotiated.”

Firefighter union president Gary Horne said his city union members were frustrated with the lack of communication with the city and City Manager Rick Finn, in particular, in regards to grievances and contract negotiations.

“We haven’t had a contract in a year and eight months,” Horne said. “We have the most grievances in our history going on. We’ve already served the city with an improper practice (suit) that’s been won and it doesn’t seem to be going anywhere. We’re at a dead end at this point, so we’re just showing that all the unions are sticking together and we’re taking care of the members that are here and our retired members.”

Before the meeting started, Finn told media members the Teamsters union contract had only expired on Dec. 31 and that it was the city that had initiated contract talks. “The union never contacted the city to begin negotiations,” Finn said. “We sent a letter about a month ago asking them to sit down at the bargaining table. They didn’t contact us. They didn’t ask for a new contract – we did. So that allegation is wrong.”

Finn said there had only been one negotiating session so far and another was slated for later this week. He said negotiations were difficult due to the financial difficulties facing the city and the rising cost of employee healthcare. “The city is not in a financial position to continually give 3 and 4 percent increases, or to continue with this union not paying any share of their health insurance,” Finn said. “The city pays 100 percent of their health insurance.”

The city is expected to pay $20,000 per family insurance plan in the coming year, said Finn, and the city did not want to raise taxes on residents any more than necessary in order to pay for employee benefits. “We’re not in a position to continually put the burden on the taxpayer,” Finn said.

Mayor Mary Foster said she did not know about the protest beforehand and said before the meeting she got a limited amount of information from Picani about the protest and planned to talk with union representatives in detail during the meeting. “I asked if it pertained to the contract negotiations and he said, ‘no,’” Foster said. “This is about grievances related to day-to-day work rules, it has to do with grievances they’ve raised that they don’t believe have been either adequately or fairly resolved.”

Foster said that one issue she knew workers wanted revisited was the changing of recycling truck routes from two to one day a week, as well as overtime owed to city sanitation workers for the seven weeks their schedules were being altered.

Foster said Finn had told the council the recycling route issue had been resolved and the overtime issue was close to being resolved. The council does not participate in the contract negotiations, and Finn had not briefed the council on the status of the contract negotiations, Foster said.

The mayor immediately called an executive session at the beginning of the work session meeting with just the three union representatives and the common council, which ran well past the scheduled start of the city’s business meeting at 7:30 p.m.

Check back tomorrow for updates on this ongoing story.

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