BUFFALO, NY - As planned layoffs for New York State Thruway Authority workers appear closer to fruition, a union representing some of them, and which is trying to hammer out a new labor agreement, has filed a complaint with the Public Employee Relations Board (PERB).
After mulling over a proposed 45% percent toll increase for trucks to balance its books, the Thruway Authority decided late last year against that idea, and instead opted to re-organize.
Part of the reorganization called for laying off 234 employees, roughly 8% of its work force, to save $20 million.
However, what prompted Teamsters Local 72 to file a complaint to PERB, was a remark made by the Thruway Authority's former chief of staff, Thomas Ryan, just after negotiations began in December on a new labor agreement.
Ryan, who was not part of the negotiating team, remarked that the Thruway Authority could "avoid" layoffs if the union made contract concessions.
"It happened in Albany and within hours it was all over the Thruway. They couldn't believe he'd make a statement like that," said Martin Latko, the President of Teamsters 72, which represents Thruway toll collectors, as well as clerical and maintenance workers.
Latko insists the remark amounted to an improper threat to lay off workers during contract negotiations.
"When they hold layoffs over your head...that's not negotiating in good faith," Latko told WGRZ-TV.
In a statement to Two On Your Side, Thruway Authority Director of Media Relations & Communications Dan Weiller wrote- "We have negotiated in good faith and will continue to do so."
"Not when they do that," countered Latko. "It's an improper labor practice"
In a letter to members posted on the union's website prior to the formal filing of the complaint, Latko accused the Thruway Authority of using "intimidation tactics" and "ham-fisted bullying".
"I always thought that labor and management could work together to settle things, but this situation is like something I've never seen in 36 years with the Thruway" he said.
How the filing of the complaint might affect negotiations for a new contract for the teamsters is unclear...but it's becoming more clear it might not prevent the planned layoffs, which now are expected to occur in April.
Click on the video player to watch our story from 2 On Your Side Reporter Dave McKinley and Photojournalist Dooley O'Rourke. Follow Dave on Twitter: @DaveMcKinley2