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City Council OKs private union talks

April 21, 2004|by GREGORY T. SIMMONS

gregs@herald-mail.com

HAGERSTOWN - The Hagerstown City Council on Tuesday eased its stance on holding public union negotiations, allowing for private talks if unions would prefer them.

The council called for public negotiations late last year in an effort to reach an agreement with the city police union on a contract. The previous contract had expired in June 2001.

A contract with the police officer's union was agreed upon soon afterward, and city officials pushed for public negotiations with the remaining three unions, which represent about 230 city employees from a number of departments.

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In late January, union representatives from the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers Local 307 and the International Association of Fire Fighters Local 1605 said they were unhappy with the open negotiations and requested private negotiations.

James Bestpitch, the negotiator for American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 1520, which represents public works, water and sewer, and parks department employees, has said it would be unfair to allow other unions to negotiate privately if the city required the police union to negotiate publicly.

At Tuesday's City Council work session, city Administrative Services Director John Budesky said representatives from the firefighters and electric workers' unions have held off on further negotiations and are awaiting a decision from the council.

"I'm basically here looking for further guidance," Budesky said.

Only one council member voiced opposition to allowing private negotiations.

"I think we're gonna have another problem" by allowing private negotiations, Councilwoman Penny M. Nigh said during the meeting.

Councilman Lewis C. Metzner dismissed Bestpitch's claims, saying, "I'm dealing with two bargaining units that he doesn't represent," referring to the firefighters and electric workers unions.

But while Metzner gave his support Tuesday to private negotiations, he left open the possibility the terms of the contracts could be debated publicly.

Councilman Kristin B. Aleshire said the format for negotiations doesn't matter.

"We pretty much end up from point 'A' to point 'B.' ... Just as long as it happens sooner than later," Aleshire said.

City Administrator Bruce Zimmerman said after the meeting that Budesky, who is the city's lead negotiator in the contract process, will return to the mayor and council once terms have been agreed upon, or if new problems arise.

Either way, Zimmerman said, "We'll have to work within our budget."

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