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Two unions want to hold private talks with city

April 20, 2004|BY GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - An experiment in open union contract negotiations is facing a challenge, with two of the four unions that represent City of Hagerstown workers saying they want to opt out of public negotiations.

The City Council asked last year that any negotiations regarding finances between the city and its unions take place in public. This afternoon, the mayor and council will discuss whether to allow unions to negotiate privately with the city.

The three contracts set to expire on June 30 cover about 230 city workers in a number of departments. Any wage increases would not take effect until new contracts are settled.

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Negotiations between the city and its unions have traditionally taken place behind closed doors. Negotiating points include how much employees should be paid and changes to wage and benefit packages. But after recent problems settling the police union contract, officials chose the public forum for discussion.

City Administrative Services Director John Budesky said Monday the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1605 and International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 307 have told officials they want to talk privately.

Steven Logsdon, who is negotiating on behalf of the electrical workers union, said private talks are "the way we've always done it. I see no reason to have it in public session."

James Bestpitch says if one union has to negotiate in public, so should the rest. Bestpitch negotiated on behalf of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 3373, which represents city police officers. He currently is negotiating for AFSCME Local 1540, the union that represents workers in the city's public works, water and sewer, and parks departments.

Bestpitch said that because the police union agreed to public negotiations, he thinks it would be "a slap in the face" to allow other unions to hold talks in private.

As far as what would happen with the current negotiations if other unions were allowed to talk privately, "that's hard to say ... (but) if the council's not hiding anything, then get it out in the open," Bestpitch said.

Mayor William M. Breichner has said public negotiations seem to speed up the process.

For instance, the police officers union's last contract expired in June 2001. After several failed attempts at private negotiations, the talks went public in mid-December 2003, at the council's direction. A new contract was agreed upon and adopted by the city Feb. 4.

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