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Westmoreland commissioners ratify labor contract

Westmoreland County commissioners grudgingly ratified a four-year labor contract for about 240 court-related workers who pulled out of a deal reached with county negotiators last year.

During a special meeting Thursday night in Jeannette, the commissioners unanimously approved the contract, which was finalized during the summer by a state arbitrator.

In July, an arbitrator recommended that employees in the county’s court-related offices represented by the Service Employees International Union receive annual hourly raises that average 6.6 percent for the length of the deal.

Those raises exceed salary increases given to the rest of the rank and file, which in the spring of 2002 approved a four-year contract that called for average hourly raises of 5.5 percent in the first two years and 4.5 percent in the final two years of the deal.

Court-related workers in the offices of the clerk of courts, prothonotary, register of wills and district justices objected to that contract and voted to renegotiate a deal for their own section of the bargaining unit.

When a second set of negotiations with that section failed to produce a settlement, the contract went to binding arbitration.

SEIU members signed off on the arbitrator’s recommendation last month, a move that essentially handcuffed the county into implementing the new deal.

Commissioner Tom Balya, who has been critical of the arbitrator’s award, said yesterday the county had little alternative but to implement the terms of the deal.

“I’m looking at a hole in the budget I’m going to have to patch. The law says we have to approve it,” Balya said.

County officials have said the new deal will cost taxpayers an additional $365,000 during the next four years.

SEIU local President Bud Santimeyer initially said the arbitrator’s award was not all that the union had sought, but yesterday he indicated his members were pleased with the outcome.

Court-related workers have not seen a raise since 2001 and will get their new salaries retroactive to April 2002.

“Let’s put some of the past debate behind us and move forward in a positive fashion,” Santimeyer said.


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