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County expected to make counteroffer to SEIU

Rich Cholodofsky
| Monday, May 14, 2012, 12:35 a.m.

A Westmoreland County commissioner said Wednesday that negotiations with Service Employees International Union Local 585 are moving closer to bridging the gap in the way of a settlement in the ongoing labor dispute.

County commissioners are expected to make a counteroffer to the union this morning when both sides are scheduled to return to the bargaining table. The new session comes two days after the last set of negotiations ended without a settlement.

"We're moving closer to getting the thing resolved. We're heading in that direction," said Tom Balya, board chairman.

Neither Balya nor Commissioner P. Scott Conner would reveal the details of the proposal.

Conner declined to say whether he supported the new county offer.

Commissioner Tom Ceraso could not be reached for comment.

Labor talks between the county and SEIU, which represents more than 1,200 employees, heated up this week after rank-and-file union members last week authorized their leadership to call a strike. No strike date has been set.

The union represents nurses and other personnel at Westmoreland Manor, 911 dispatchers, courthouse workers, parks and roads crews, and other county employees in various departments.

SEIU spokesman Tom Hoffman issued a statement yesterday in which he indicated the sides were still far apart.

"The ball is clearly in the commissioners' court. They must bear the full responsibility for the current situation. We are waiting to hear back from them, but we are not optimistic," Hoffman said.

Commissioners spent much of yesterday morning behind closed doors crafting a response to a proposal they said was tendered by the union on Tuesday night.

Sources said the union pitched a three-year deal that would increase salaries of workers by $1.70 per hour over the course of the contract and provide a free health care package. That package appears to be a compromise between what the county previously offered and what union members currently receive.

But union leaders said yesterday they never made a formal proposal to the county.

"We don't agree (with the commissioners). We were discussing a lot of proposals," Hoffman said.

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