Mayor Shayne Gallo said Tuesday he will depart from a long tradition of backroom deal-making when he begins negotiations with three city unions. Gallo, who once representedKingstoncops and firefighters as a labor attorney, says this time around his position — and the unions’ — would be aired in public throughout the negotiating process.
“I have a duty to disclose to the public what’s going to be on the table and what the impact will be on the taxpayers,” said Gallo.
Three unions which represent city employees — the Kingston Professional Firefighters Association, the Police Benevolent Association and the Civil Service Employees Association — have been working without a contract since Dec. 31. Negotiations on new contracts are expected to begin later this month. Traditionally, the deals have been hammered out behind closed doors between the mayor and union leaders with assistance from labor attorneys. According to PBA President Barry Rell, who said that he had thus far only heard “rumors” about the mayor’s plan to negotiate publicly, the closed-door sessions helped ensure that conflicting opinions and agendas did not slow down or stall the process.
“If you have too many people at the table during negotiations, you’re not going to get anything done,” Rell said Tuesday. “If you have 20 people at the table you end with 20 different opinions.”
Gallo acknowledged the potential drawbacks of transparent negotiations, but added that the city’s fiscal position was too precarious for closed-door talks. Gallo cited increased health care costs and the state’s 2 percent property tax cap as major factors behind his hard-line stance that he said would include no wage increases, a freeze on step and longevity pay, an increase in the amount employees contribute to health insurance costs and “operational changes” to cut down on overtime.
“I understand that [with public negotiations] that egos can get involved, crazy people can get involved,” said Gallo. “But this isn’t about egos or crazy people, this is about the city being able to function it’s about making sure [city workers] have a job, because the alternative is to lay you off.”
Rell said the PBA would not negotiate “through the media” but he added that the union entered negotiations fully aware of the difficult financial situation on the local and the national level.
“If [Gallo] wants to sit there and try to use the media as a tool for his benefit, that’s his choice,” said Rell. “But I think everybody already knows that wallets are tight this year. We’re fully cognizant of that.”