Second thoughts on Hoosick union

Monday February 18, 2013

HOOSICK, N.Y. -- After thousands spent in legal fees, one town official asked for a "cooling-off period" in the midst of union contract negotiations with the Hoosick highway department.

Since the department voted to form an eight-member local bargaining unit late last year affiliated with Teamsters Local 294, the town has spent a combined $14,000 in negotiations.

"I’d like to make a motion that we have a cooling-off period where we can sit down and talk to these guys, outside of union negotiators, not for negotiation purposes," town board member Mark Surdam said. Since the town first received notice Surdam said officials had never met face-to-face with members of the department, some of whom sat in attendance Jan. 11, to hear their concerns. "I can’t see why we can’t just talk."

Town Supervisor Keith Cipperly, the town’s representative in negotiations, said that motion could not be made. Joanne Monagan, attending her first meeting as town attorney, concurred.

"If the people you’re hearing from want to do something different, they have to make that known to their attorneys," said Monagan, after Surdam said he was approached by members of the highway crew who inquired whether the process could be put on hold.

"If they’re represented by someone, I would go through their attorney," Monagan said.

Pointedly asked whether they supported a unionized department, Cipperly and board members Bruce Patire and Jeff Wysocki replied in the negative. (Kevin Allard, a former planning board member who was appointed to fill a vacant town board seat later in the evening, did not participate in the discussion.)

"I’m worried that this is an endless pit for spending, and we have an opportunity to stop it," Surdam said, after listing changes he said would need to be made under a union, including the hiring of a certified mechanic, an additional supervisor, and for duties with the town pool and skating rink that the department has picked up since the retirement of former recreation supervisor Leo McGuire. "These guys know how to work on equipment and they are working on equipment, and they are saving the town a lot of money" currently.

Often the only board member to ask clarifying questions during public meetings, Surdam expressed concern in January over a budget transfer to continue union contract negotiations. Responding to an email among board members, Surdam said he wasn’t "posturing" for a higher office.

"I’m not interested in any other office -- I’m interested in filling the terms of my obligations here as a town councilman," he said. "This is the concern of a town councilman."

"I do have other concerns."

"For you, Mr. Surdam, if you think this is a waste of money ... How come you voted to sue a man over a fence?" Cipperly asked, referring to a lawsuit against the owner of a scrap yard on Route 7 that was noncompliant with a town junk ordinance. The litigation was dropped by officials in 2010.

"What’s that have to do with this?" Surdam asked, continuing to say it had nothing to do with the situation at hand.

The meeting ended with a lengthy private executive session.

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