Union wants to see county drilling bids

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A local union in the midst of contract negotiations with Allegheny County is trying to expose details of a potentially lucrative deal to drill for natural gas in a county park, saying the numbers would show the county can afford to give its members larger raises.

Service Employees International Union Local 668, which represents about 200 county courts employees, filed a petition Monday to force the county to release all proposals it has received to drill at Deer Lakes Park, a project Allegheny County Executive Rich Fitzgerald announced earlier this year.

The county has cried poor during contract negotiations, says the union, which is asking for wage increases of between 3 percent and 3.25 percent for each of the next four years. The county says it can afford just 1 percent to 1.5 percent annually for each of the four years, citing the expense of the recent real estate reassessment, the union wrote in court papers.

So SEIU is demanding county leaders turn over revenue projections from the proposed Deer Lakes project, which could be finalized as early as January.

"The Union contends that the County can afford and is able to pay these requested increases," SEIU attorney Claudia Davidson wrote. "The Union has undisputably established at the hearing that this bargaining unit has the unfortunate historical status as being the County bargaining unit with the lowest wages for the vast majority of its members."

County lawyers have denied the request, the petition reads.

Mr. Fitzgerald's staff has said before that the drilling proposals are private.

Even so, progress apparently has been made in negotiations. On Nov. 27, both parties met with arbitrators and worked out an interim award, which will allow the county to include workers in their 2013 health insurance plan, according to the petition. The only issues remaining are wage increases and whether they will be retroactive to the beginning of 2013, the petition reads.

It may be a thaw from last month, when a union representative spoke during a county council meeting and accused Mr. Fitzgerald of withholding longevity bonuses from his members.

Andrew McGill: amcgill@post-gazette.com or 412-263-1497.

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