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Control Board Extends Wage Freeze for Another Year

By Eileen Buckley

Buffalo, NY – City workers won't be seeing an increase in their paychecks any time soon. The Buffalo Fiscal Stability Authority voted unanimously Wednesday to extend a city wage freeze.

The control board first approved the city wage freeze in April 2004. Since that time, city unions, including AFSCME and the Buffalo Teachers Federation, have filed lawsuits, saying the freeze violates union contracts.

Wednesday, the control board said that unless the city's fiscal situation improves, the wage freeze will remain in place for up to five years. Bill Travis -- president of AFSCME Local 264 -- is outraged. He says some city employees have been working without pay raises for four years.

"Everything that has been done, since this control board was put into place, has been a public relations piece to pit the community against the public sector worker," Travis said. "They do a very good job of it."

"We certainly don't feel that it is the city against the unions," control board member Alair Townsend said. "Everyone is in this together, but you have to take the broad view. This is not a wealthy community."

Townsend said the meetings are not a time to conduct collective bargaining with unions. Board member Richard Tobe says the union needs to come up with cost-cutting concessions

"A pay raise does not come without cost," Tobe said. "It is not that taxes go up, they can't anymore. The cost is a reduction in the workforce."

But Travis says his union has offered past concession to the city.

"Historically, Local 264 has made numerous concessions in contract talks," Travis said. "We have made also made numerous work rules, but in order to that, you have to get to the table. And you can't get to the table when the chief negotiator (Mayor Masiello) for the city sits on this control board."

The board says it intends to revisit the wage freeze issue next year.

It also issued new labor guidelines for future collective bargaining and is calling on the unions and public to review the draft. The control board says skyrocketing health and pension costs for current employees and retirees continue to have a huge impact on city spending.

Meanwhile, both Townsend and Tobe say they have not been asked about the possibility of overseeing Erie County spending. Alair Townsend says the decision to impose a control board is up to the Governor and State Legislature. There has been some speculation that if a county control board was imposed, it might be rolled into the Buffalo control board.

"I think we have not even come to grips with that," Townsend said. "I would prefer not to speculate on that."

Control board member Richard Tobe says it would be an enormous amount of work and significant burden for members and the staff to oversee both city and county spending.

"We don't have, in these control board positions, personal desires. I was asked to serve by the Governor and the State Legislature. If they choose to ask us to help the County of Erie, either in a short term or long term basis, I would personally try to do my best," Tobe said. "But if they asked us not to do it, I think that would be just fine."

Tobe says the problems and issues of the city and county are much different.