Be careful with contract

The situation with the town of Johnstown’s highway department may be getting worse. After the Town Board decided to limit overtime pay for town employees to only instances in which an employee has worked more than 40 hours in a week, the members of the highway department want to unionize.

The Town Board was well within its rights to set the overtime policy instead of the practice of granting overtime pay for weekend work even on weeks when town employees used vacation or sick time during the week, but the highway employees also have the right to unionize. A unionized workforce likely would be more expensive for taxpayers and less flexible in its ability to serve the public.

According to the New York State Public Employee Relations Board, the process of creating a new public-employee collective-bargaining unit could be lengthy or short, depending on how much the town and highway department can agree on, but if the workers want to unionize, they probably will succeed in their effort.

If the time comes to negotiate an initial contract, the Town Board should be careful. New York state’s Taylor Law and its Triborough Amendment mandate all of the provisions of a public-employee union contract remain in place after the contract expires and until new deals are agreed to by both sides. Town taxpayers could be stuck paying for whatever the Town Board approves in the first contract for decades to come.

The Town Board should do all it can to make sure this first contract reflects the economic realities of the world today. There should be no longevity raises and no outrageously expensive health-insurance policies. The overtime policy should continue to require at least 40 hours of work in a week before time-and-a-half pay is allowed.

The Town Board also should insist on a provision that allows Highway Superintendent T.J. Bradt to continue to perform his job as he has done before the creation of the union. The Town Board should not sign a labor contract that allows the department members to tightly restrict the duties of the highway superintendent.