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Supervisor's Corner: Unions and the Town of Webster Government Employees

By Webster Town Supervisor Tom Flaherty

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Prior to becoming Webster Town Supervisor, I had been in “private industry” for 30+ years. For the first 8 years out of college, I was an “employee.” The next 25 years I was in “management/ownership.” The common denominator of my private industry experience was that there were no labor unions at the companies I worked for or owned.


The Town of Webster government has 14 departments that encompass over 100 full-time W-2 employees and another 100+ part-time W-2 employees. Many of the full-time employees are in a labor union. The three (3) labor unions are White Collar, Blue Collar, and Police. For example: white collar union encompasses administrative employees, blue collar union encompasses highway department and sewer department employees, and the police union encompasses the police officers. For the most part, department heads are considered “management” and are not in the union.


When I became supervisor in January 2020, the blue collar and white collar union contracts for the 3-year period of January 2020-December 2022 were already in place as they had been negotiated in 2019. The current police union contract expires on December 2020, so I have recently entered into negotiations with the police union reps on the contract for January 2021 and beyond. Assisting me on this negotiation are various members of Human Resources, the Finance Department, and the Town Board liaison to police.


A few things I have noted in my first 8 months as supervisor as it pertains to unions: 1st... I’m a habit-based person. It has not been my habit in the past to have to “bounce things off the union” before I move forward on management decisions that affect employees. I’ve apologized to the various union reps on this and have asked them to be patient with me as I “build that habit” of including them in communications early in the process.


Second... COVID-19 is something that is “challenging” the Town Board on both the 2020 budget to actual, and on budgeting for 2021. This is due to the “unknowns” created by the pandemic on both lost revenues and added expenses due to COVID-19. Labor union contracts need to be referred to prior to any moves the Town Board seeks to make to react or, better yet, be “proactive” to COVID-19-created issues if the board ever seeks to reduce expenses/taxes to the town citizens via payroll and/or benefits moves toward the town government employees.


Third... This may be my “first rodeo” on union negotiations, but it certainly is NOT my first foray into negotiating “win-wins” between ownership/management and employees. The KEY is the “win-win” aspect of this. In layman terms... Every dollar that the Town “wins” is a dollar the employee is conceding in pay and/or benefits. Conversely, every dollar the employee “wins” in pay and benefits is a dollar the town concedes. The town concession means getting that dollar from revenue sources or from taxing the town citizens.


In conclusion, it is imperative that town government leadership and union leadership understand the delicate balance on this. If one side gets too much... that balance can have short and long term ramifications.


As always, if you want to reach me, please call (585) 872-7068 or e-mail me at supervisor@ci.webster.ny.us.

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