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Union Head Questions Council on Gracedale Bargaining

Jerry Green, of the steelworkers union, worries council will try to delay bargaining until after the proposed sale.

A representative for unionized employees at Northampton County’s publicly owned home for the aged, Gracedale, had some words for county administrators at county council’s Thursday night meeting.

Speaking during the courtesies of the floor portion of the meeting, President of United Steelworkers Local 2599 Jerry Green questioned council members about their understanding of what he characterized as a statement made by Northampton County Director of Administration John Conklin about an effort to delay collective bargaining with Gracedale employees until after a possible .

Green asked council members to confirm whether or not Conklin told them during an executive session at an earlier meeting that a deal had been made with two potential buyers of the nursing home to delay the bargaining so contracts would not be in place at the time of sale.

"That was my understanding," county council member Ann McHale said. "It was implied that it was going to be the case."

Councilman Lamont McClure also agreed with Green's characterization of the purported deal, telling him, "What you say is true."

Council member Peg Ferraro said she was unsure if Green’s characterization was entirely correct.

"I wouldn't swear to it, but I do remember something to that effect," she said.

Councilman Tom Dietrich told Green he would not talk about the matter, because it had been discussed in a closed session.

"It was executive session. There's a reason for that," he said. "I'm going to respectfully decline (to discuss it) at this point. I apologize.”

"It would be a dog and pony show if that statement was made," Green said.

"When we go to the bargaining table, we do try to get an agreement in good faith. At the end of the day, our unions act in a professional manner," he added. "If that was said, I certainly think something should be done about that."

Green said he has reached out to the county numerous times, "asking them to sit down and bargain."

Speaking later at the meeting, Northampton County Executive John Stoffa disagreed with Green’s characterization of the county’s response to his outreach.

“We have always agreed to sit down,” Stoffa said. “And I resent when someone says we haven’t.”

McHale said that perhaps council should “stipulate a date” for a meeting between the administration and Green.

A date was not set, but after the meeting Green said he is “considering filing labor charges” against the county.

With regard to funding the operation of Gracedale through the end of the year, at least one council member expressed optimism.

The county’s current budget only allocates $3.5 million toward the operation of Gracedale through June 30, and was prepared with the idea that the home would be sold, and before the issue was set to go to a .

Councilman Lamont McClure said he believes an additional $3 million proposed to sustain the operations of the facility through the end of the year should be adequate.

“I think we could try and live with the $3 million through the rest of the year,” he said.

“I don’t see the danger in sticking with the $3 million,” he said. “I don’t see it at all.”

Council President John Cusick added that looking at changes to the management structure at Gracedale could result in significant savings and could be the “key to making this thing work.”

Also at the meeting, councilman Ron Angle asked council solicitor Philip Lauer to characterize the Commonwealth Court's recent decision allowing the Gracedale question circulated by petitioners who want the home to remain county owned to appear on the May 17 primary ballot.

Specifically, Angle asked if that decision negates previous case law, which states that matters affecting county budgets cannot be voted on by ballot.

"I don't think that's what it says," Lauer responded.

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