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New contracts to eliminate approximately $1 million in spending

TRENTON, N.J.—Mercer County Executive Brian M. Hughes announced today the successful negotiations of two union contracts affecting more than 200 Mercer County employees.

The newly agreed upon contracts, if approved by Mercer County freeholders on May 13, would result in a savings of nearly $1 million in the 2010 budget due to the elimination of personnel costs such as Cost of Living Adjustments, overtime, and pension and Social Security costs.

The 60-plus members of Teamsters Local Union 35, comprising nurses who work at the County’s Geriatric Center, Correction Center and Youth Detention Center, ratified a new 2-year agreement after having worked with a one-year pact. That one-year contract for 2009 put a freeze on Cost of Living (COLA) increases, and temporarily halted “step guide” advancements in salaries. The two-year agreement running from January 1, 2010 to Dec. 31, 2011 again freezes the COLA increase this year, and in 2011, agrees to a COLA adjustment of 2.5 percent.

On the heels of that pact, AFSCME Local 3566 Professional Supervisors Unit — which represents 148 County employees — agreed to a 3-year contract which virtually mirrors the terms and conditions of the Teamsters agreement of two full years of no COLA increases with a “step guide” freeze in year one, followed by a third year in which a 2.5 percent COLA increase was agreed upon. That contract runs Jan. 1, 2009 to Dec. 31, 2011.

Both bodies also agreed to surrender one paid holiday, Lincoln’s birthday.

“In these very tough economic times, our bargaining team did an exceptional job in negotiating with two of our unions,” Hughes said. “I appreciate the hard work of Administrator Andy Mair. The unions and the county accept the reality of these difficult times and came to realistic expectations, and within those expectations we were able to reach an accord.”

The preservation of county jobs was not a concession that was on the table, and even with this pact, the county will be conducting another reduction in force once the sale of the Mercer County Geriatric Center is complete. The county had announced the sale would be sometime this summer.

Contract talks for both groups began in 2009.

“As is the case with negations, there were many iterations of these contracts before we even got to the bargaining table, but in the end, these are very simplistic agreements, and it all boils down to saving money for Mercer County and its residents,” Hughes added. “These are not small units, and we hope to have similarly reasonable agreements in future negotiations with other labor units.”

Mercer County is in arbitration or about to begin arbitration with four units and has a total of 20 bargaining units.

Mercer County, like all governing bodies in the state, is experiencing fiscal stress due to increased pension and salary costs and unfunded mandates that it must provide. County Executive Hughes has personally eschewed any pay increase in the past three years, and all unrepresented County employees have faced similar wage freezes during that time.

“We believe these are fair agreements that are on the level with what we have accomplished among our non-affiliated workers. I applaud the membership of Teamsters Local 35 and AFSCME Local 3566 for recognizing the importance of these terms.”

The Board of Chosen Freeholders will vote on resolutions to approve the two contracts on May 13.