LITTLE VALLEY — A series of meetings this month between the Cattaraugus County Legislature’s Labor Relations Committee and several county unions is not a signal of impending labor agreements.

The county’s four-year contracts with most unions expires at the end of the year and both sides indicate any last-minute agreements are unlikely due to the short amount of time available. The County Legislature’s last meeting is Dec. 13.

“We’re in open negotiations with all our units,” County Administrator Jack Searles said Friday. “Some units we’ve met with are actively going back and forth with proposals and counter proposals. Some units are further ahead.”

Searles said the Labor Relations Committee headed by Majority Leader Donna Vickman, R-Farmersville, believes that in “in all probability, negotiations will go into 2018. We’re running out of days” to complete the negotiations before Dec. 31.

“When you are dealing with salary negotiations, the union votes on the contract before the County Legislature,” Searles said.

“The good news is that we are doing very, very good,” Searles said. Negotiations are spirited and productive. “Progress is being made,” he added.

Sheri Ambuske, president of the General Bargaining Unit  Local 1000 of the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents about 800 county employees, said Friday, “Overall, I think everything is going very well. We’ve made progress at each meeting.” The last issues — salary and health insurance — is always the most difficult.

“Everyone has been very respectful and things have gone extremely well. There is a positive outlook” that represents taxpayers as well as employees. “We’re taxpayers too,” Ambuske added.

The unions are coming off contracts that provided for raises of 2 percent each year. Employees pay a share of their health insurance.

Ambuske agreed with Searles that an agreement between the General Bargaining Unit, represented by the Civil Service Employees Association, and the county “probably won’t happen before the end of the year.”

The county is represented by Ginger Schroder of Schroder Joseph & Associates, Buffalo, who lives in Farmersville. The firm specializes in labor law.

Ambuske said, “It’s been refreshing with the new negotiator.”

Searles said the collective bargaining meetings began before mid-year and have been ongoing. “We have a set of meetings coming up (this month) with the different units.”

One of the sheriff’s units’ contract has expired, but the remaining labor contracts expire at the end of the year.

Searles told county lawmakers last month when he introduced the tentative 2018 county budget that he had included money in the budget to cover the cost of the new labor contracts.

(Contact reporter Rick Miller at rmiller@oleantimesherald.com. Follow him on Twitter, @RMillerOTH)

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