County Rejects Tentative Pact after Arbitration

Article excerpt

Still fuming over an arbitrator's decision earlier this month that gives county probation officers free health care, Westmoreland County commissioners on Thursday blasted the decision and voted to reject the tentative contract.

In doing so, Commissioner Tom Balya called on state lawmakers to revamp the system that allows appointed arbitrators to decide government labor deals.

"It's time the Legislature rolls up their sleeves and reins in unelected people who have control over government. The Legislature needs to step in and do something," Balya said.

Officials from the state's Department of Labor and Industry, which oversees the arbitration system, did not respond to requests for comment.

Earlier this month, an arbitrator awarded about 70 members of the Westmoreland Court Association of Professional Employees a new three- year labor deal that included 3 percent annual raises and free health insurance for the duration of the contract.

The union, WCAPE, represents adult and juvenile probation workers, and its members are among the last county employees to get free health insurance.

Commissioners did ratify a new five-year deal with the Service Employees International Union Local 668 and Local 1199P that called for the bargaining unit's 1,000 members for the first time to pay for a portion of their health benefits.

The arbitrator's decision in the WCAPE case became public the day before SEIU members voted to approve their new contract.

Commissioners yesterday formally rejected the WCAPE arbitration award for 2007 and 2008.

"This is a slap in the face of all employees who agreed to make contributions to health care and a slap in the face to the taxpayers of Westmoreland County," said Commissioner Phil Light.

Commissioner Tom Ceraso said he was puzzled by the arbitrator's conclusion to give probation workers free health care.

"I don't know I can sit here and accept this when the majority of employees agreed to contribute to health care costs," Ceraso said. …