Wednesday, April 16th 2014

Holly council rehashes budget deficit, union negotiations, and insurance premiums

Written by Amy Mayhew   
Wednesday, December 16 2009

Gwen Walters reads her stateme...

HOLLY, Michigan – A $68,626 budget deficit and ongoing union contract negotiation woes provided Holly Village Council members, village employees and many concerned community members with plenty to discuss during the Dec. 15 Village Council meeting.

Last week, council members rescinded Village Manager Marsha Powers’ plan to layoff 10 village employees over the holidays, a move that would have shut down the Village Offices and the DPW while saving the village’s general fund approximately $7,700.

On Tuesday evening, council members looked for other ways to reduce the village’s bursting budget.

Before council could dig into the budget, village employee and union steward for the Teamsters Local 214 Gwen Walters used the public comment portion of the meeting to suggest ways in which the union and village officials could become “unstuck” in contract negotiations.

‘The current budget crisis has left members of the Teamsters bargaining unit wondering what the future will hold," Walters said. “We do not take our positions with the village for granted. We are here to serve the taxpayers of this community.” Walters said the two obstacles standing in the way of an agreement pertained to new work guidelines penned by Powers in August, and the use of part time employees and contract employees to complete work that could and should be done by Teamsters bargaining employees.

“If the Village Council would agree that these guidelines have not been officially enacted and that they will be negotiated between the bargaining unit, the personnel committee and management, then the major obstacle to settling the contract will have been removed,” Walters said. “If the village would agree to allow Teamsters oversight of the deliberations for the hiring of contract employees and part time employees, then the second obstacle to the contract negotiations would be removed.”

Walters said there is concern among group members regarding the Dec. 23 deadline for the Teamsters bargaining agreement. Should the village ratify the contract before Dec. 23 or rescind the cancellation, Walters said the group anticipated concessions from the bargaining unit to include no resistance to healthcare changes made immediately, no resistance to reduced hours for part time employees, and no objections to short term layoffs or furloughs as long as management agrees to participate equally in the pay and/or time reductions.

In addition to the union’s letter, council members were given a list of six suggested ways in which the group of employees felt additional budget reductions could be made.

“The Teamsters are willing to help you balance the budget by sharing in the sacrifices that need to be made,” Walters summarized. “There is a strong likelihood that the contract could be settled by the end of this week. We have laid our cards on the table. It’s up to you, the Village Council to decide how you want to direct the Village Manager to proceed.”

Following Walters’ comments, Holly Chief of Police Rollie Gackstetter addressed council. “The police department has historically to my knowledge been the most difficult bargaining unit in the village with which to reach an agreement,” he said. “And I would have to tell you that the same bargaining team that is now working with the Teamsters accomplished a wage freeze, insurance changes, and 52 language changes in five meetings.”

Gackstetter offered some words of warning. “So it can be accomplished and I would want to caution the council that the Teamsters efforts to conduct contract negotiations at public comment are unwise for both parties.”

Without further public comment, council woman Pauline Kenner started off the budget discussion by saying she felt village management should take a 4.5 percent pay cut across the board, while village employees salaries should be slashed by 2.5 percent.

“I think that everyone will be able to keep their jobs, and the village should be able to run smoothly after that,” Kenner said.

Council woman Reisa Hamilton agreed with Kenner, but said she felt salaries for all employees – management and otherwise, should be reduced by 2.7-percent across the board. Hamilton said her calculations made the assumption that the parks department could reduce expenditures by $16,331 for mowing and firework reductions, and the elimination of Porta Johns.

Powers said sweeping pay cuts for village employees would not be possible without the union’s blessing. “You can sit and vote on that, but you can’t do that when there are union contracts in place  - you can’t cut peoples’ salaries without discussing that with union negotiations,” she said.

Village President Pete Clemens inquired about how much the village currently pays in deductibles for health insurance. Powers said village police and administrative employees currently pay $1,500 in deductibles for individuals and $3,000 for family plan. The deductibles, according to Powers are paid by the village’s third party administrator. With all employees on the current plan, Powers said the village could stand to save approximately $81,000. Raising the deductible to $2,500 for individuals and $5,000 for families would increase the village’s saving by $92,000.

Powers said to date, the village has only spent about $2,700 in deductible costs. “Beyond that, it’s been $10 office calls – it’s been a minimal cost.”

Downtown business developer Bob Hoffman said he was in favor of raising the deductibles. “If you have a $2,500 per person and $5,000 per family deductible, you save $90,000 a year and every month that goes by, you use one 1/12 of that and you’ll be in your next budget year,” Hoffman said. “I can’t imagine that any bargaining unit would object because they’re getting the exact same coverage,” he added. “You’re self-funding the deductible, they’re getting the same benefits they have now, they’ll save $90,000, and nobody will lose their job in this budget year – to me it just sounds simple.”

Hoffman said he couldn’t imagine anyone filing an unfair labor practice or grievance should the village opt to up the deductible and move employees over to the new plan. “You haven’t lost anything,” he said. “I would implement it tomorrow.”

Councilman Tom McKenney asked Powers if village attorney Mr. Zakoff had weighed in on the village’s potential financial exposure if they were to go ahead with moving the village employees to the new insurance plan without a union contract in place.

Powers said Zakoff indicated that the village could incur between $1,500 and $3,000 in legal fees if the firm was required to represent the village in a unfair labor practice lawsuit, but would save the village $33,000 in insurance premiums by doing so.

“I say we pull the trigger on the insurance change,” McKenney said before making a formal motion that was unanimously approved by the council.

Clemens directed his attention back to Walter’s letter and list of concessions the union would be interested in making. “I think that this list, no matter how it got to us, does point out some decent ideas,” he said. “I think we need to seriously sit down and do this -  we need to get this done.”

“I don’t have a copy, but I did jot down most of them,” Powers said. “Several of these things are not general fund expenditures and I would be happy to sit down with the union people and explain it to them,” she said. “Most of these people are paid out of either water and sewer – there are minimal expenditures here that would affect the general fund.”

Powers said the next scheduled contract negotiation meeting with union business representative Les Barrett, a mediator and village employees is slated for Jan. 29. Powers said since July, Barrett had canceled all other scheduled meetings, and that Jan. 29 was the first possible date on which all interested parties could coordinate a meeting.

“We don’t have to wait until January,” McKenney said, suggesting village management and union employees take one last shot at reaching an agreement before the Dec. 23 deadline.

Village employee Kevin Durgan favored McKenney’s idea. “Mr. Les Barrett is our business advisor, so we can go ahead as a group – as a union – go ahead and represent ourselves,” he said. “The problem is, we have to negotiate with whomever you have chosen to negotiate our contract - we can’t go over and above that, but if you guys would like to sit in and be the other bargaining unit, we would be happy to work with you.”

"We have a problem in that as council members, we're not to be entering into labor negotiations because that is an executive function and it’s restricted by the Village Charter," council man Bill Kuyk said.  "We are the legislators – we legislate and we have a staff that we have hired that take care of the administrative duties."

Powers said under the union contract, village officials are unable to negotiate with union employees without the presence of a union business representative, and that in all of her years of working for the village, Barrett has never agreed to allow union employees to meet without him. "In the 13 years I’ve worked at the village, he will not allow these employees go into any negotiation without him," she said.

“That remains to be seen – we’ve got a meeting in January if nothing else happens,” McKenney said before making a motion for Powers and Clemens to meet with village employees within the next week for one final stab at coming to an agreement. The motion was passed 7-0.

Union representative Les Barrett did not return phone calls for comment.


#1 Jason 1999-11-29 20:00
I don't think we should limit the selection process of village employees to village residents only as Liza seems to indicate. I would rather take an ambitious and successful person to help Holly progress that happens to live outside of the village or township than someone locally just because they live inside the village borders. I can understand the idea that the person would then be acting as both a village employee and a resident, but that doesn't necessarily provide what is best for the community. It also doesn't make sense to reduce the size of the talent pool.

Sandy, what if Kevin didn't have an agenda and what if even half of what he mentions is true? Who is to say that he isn't bringing forth legitimate concerns? Have you met Kevin to make such judgements like 'oboxious' and 'arrogant'? Is that conclusion reached simply because of the way he writes? Ryan writes very well, would you label him in such a way if he wrote passionately about something that you didn't agree with?
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#2 Sandy 1999-11-29 20:00
Marsha Powers you better look out, it sounds like Kevin Walters is after your job!! He sounds very obnoxious and arrogant. What is his agenda???
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#3 tom 1999-11-29 20:00
I have re-read Mr. Walters comments and he seems more frustrated with the lack of help and support from the village manager. Mr. Walters has stood up in a public forum meeting and pleaded for the village to come to the table and come to an agreement with the union. It has been ignored from everything I have read so far. I see no obnoxious or arrogant comments from him, I would love to see what comments you find to be obnoxious and arrogant. Please reply with direct quotes.
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#4 Ryan 1999-11-29 20:00
I'd venture to say that most village residents share the same concerns, and judging from the sentiments shared here, at council meetings and in casual conversations, all parties involved are willing to make sacrifices and come to an agreement that satisfies all parties.

The problem lies where decisions can't just be made unilaterally. The village can't just slash wages or make most changes without the formal consent of the union. Likewise, it's in the union contract that they cannot formally negotiate without their union representative present, who is apparently notoriously unavailable. It doesn't seem like either side is being stubborn or standing pat and holding up progress.

At the past council meeting, sentiments were expressed to find some way to get this done and find some workarounds to the situation. This isn't something you can wave a magic wand at and make it go away, but the fact that those involved are working to move forward is encouraging.
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#5 Liza 1999-11-29 20:00
Fact is there seems to be a budget issue. Fact is there seems to be no agreement between the Village and the union. Fact is we have some very high paid people on the Village payroll that are NOT current residents of the Village. I am not talking Township. The Village.

I applaud the employees that understand the value of keeping our community strong, understanding that the economy has taken a toll on all of us and the employees that are willing to continue to work hard and if that means some cuts in pay or consessions in perks then accept it! I moved here from the Chicago area with an engineering job in automotive. I lost my job and have been working retail to make ends meet. We all do what we have to do!

Look, I do think that the staff does a fine job. If there was not an issue with a budget no one would be discussing this now. Reality is there is a problem that needs a solution and I am not willing to stay quiet when it may effect my pocket book! Love the Village. Plan on staying here as long as possible. Love the employees here. Let's do the smart thing for everyone involved.
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#6 Bob 1999-11-29 20:00
Liza, get off your soap box... please.

This issue has nothing to do with how long you've lived here or just how woven your life is into the culture and history of Holly - as much as most of you long-time residents who grew up in the Village want to believe. This is about the union. This is about economics. This is about the need for change. Now.
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#7 BARBARA RICE 1999-11-29 20:00
Dear Liza, I am a Village employee and a Village resident.
I have lived in my home in the Village of Holly for over 16 years. I pay Village taxes and Holly taxes. The same issue that affect you in the village affect me as well. Previously to that I live in an apartment in the downtown area and before that on Milford Rd outside of the Village for over 40 years, my parents still live there I have lived in the Holly area most of my life. I attended Holly area schools, my children attend Holly area schools. I shop at Holly foods, Family dollar, McKay's Hardware and the downtown area just to name a few. My family dentist is in Holly. So with the other 3 that I know of that makes at least 4 teamsters 214 employees that are Village Resident and at least 3 in Holly township.
So you don't seem to have your facts straight there. So I wonder what other "facts" you have wrong???
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#8 tom 1999-11-29 20:00

Thats just it, i'm not easily embarrassed. This really has uncovered alot:

village giving out jobs to other people when the DPW could do it.

someone apparently stealing from work

the Village manager trying to force the union out

Maybe we should call the Channel 2 problem solvers into this for a investigation?
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#9 Kim 1999-11-29 20:00
While not everyone likes to air their dirty laundry in public like this, you have to admit, it's uncovered some issues (and in some cases, some solutions)! Tom, why are you so easily embarrassed?
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#10 Jason Hughes 1999-11-29 20:00
Tom, look at the bright side. It is not being aired out on the via the Tri County Hotlines... lol

Thank you for this website and Happy Holidays everyone!

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#11 Liza 1999-11-29 20:00
I am reading about the Village not being able to balance a budget. I look around me at vacant homes in foreclosure and think of my neighbors that were forced to leave this wonderful community. People leave and we loose tax revenue. If we have to remove the union to save money it must be done. If employees have to make a choice between having a job with less pay, or no job at all, it must be done. If any current employees want to leave I am sure we have many qualified people in this community that would love to work for the Village and keep their homes! Lets look at the big picture here and think about how to keep the people that live in the Village in the Village! No special assessments, no more taxes, no more increases to keep union employees that do not even live here! Merry Christmas and Happy New Year.
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#12 Andy 1999-11-29 20:00
That's what I was thinking, Tom. This whole issue could have been resolved if the village manager would have negotiated the contract properly in the first place. Her lack of management skills have now caused a situation that could have been avoided six months ago to drag on and on. As a result, employees are at war with each other. The whole thing doesn't cast a very appealing light on our community. Tom's right. It's embarrassing. After the village solves this union thing, maybe the next option they need to consider is who should be running daily operations.
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#13 Ryan 1999-11-29 20:00
Tom, I agree that the layoffs and union negotiations playing out in public is rather embarrassing, and more importantly, counter-productive. It'd be great if both the Village and the Union factored in the element of public perception of rescinding layoffs, revealing internal tensions, etc.

Except, I don't see anyone from the "Village" posting in this thread--at least not council members or officials to the extent that this board's ID system allows. So I'm not quite sure why the "Village" should be ashamed, unless you're implying that this public forum should be shut down because voluntary participation on it is making people look bad.
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#14 tom 1999-11-29 20:00
Wow, this all sounds like a clancy movie. what an extremely embarassing blog for both the union and the village. Again, WOW!!!!!!

Union - shame on you for not sticking together and talking this out with each other.

Village - shame on you for letting this work out in the paper and blogs.
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#15 Cherie Hedrick 1999-11-29 20:00
Actually there were two other members that had letters all written and ready to send, but when Mr. Barrett had the union steward pass out the letters that we sent they were afraid to send them. As far as trying to get any information from our local bargaining unit that is almost impossible.
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#16 Gwen Walters 1999-11-29 20:00
Ms. Hendrick's lack of solidarity was made obvious when she and two other employees wrote letters to the president of the Teamsters complaining about the representation for the local bargaining unit. The proper way to air those concerns would have been to address those letters to the local bargaining unit first, then escalate the issue if the response was unsatisfactory.
While the majority of the bargaining unit members understand that not all issues weigh exactly the same with each individual member, there are a few members that consider issues only from a personal perspective. That approach is what creates a lack of solidarity.
The local bargaining unit is a democratic group. We welcome dissent because it ensures that all sides of an issue are considered.
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#17 Cathy 1999-11-29 20:00
Is the bargaining committee set in stone from all parties or can other people with better knowledge of negotiating these kind of things be a part of it? If so, how and who can appoint other's to help resolve these issue's? Sometimes it takes new eye's to look at an old problem. You've heard the old saying: Can't see the forest for the tree's! New blood might be a key ingredient.
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#18 Cherie Hedrick 1999-11-29 20:00
I am a village employee and a member of the Teamsters. The current village manager has never given us a "Personnel Manual" our previous manager gave us one about 3 years ago that everyone signed and there was no problem. The current village manager in Aug 2009 gave us an "Employee Guidelines", which cover items such as returning village property when you retire or resign, taking care of village property, not sleeping at work, no chewing tobacco at your desk..nothing that I had a problem with. I read it and signed it before the union instructed everyone that they shouldn't sign it. Myself and several others sent letters to the President of the teamsters stating that we are not happy with the representation from Mr. Barrett. We have not had any reply. In the 6 years I have worked for the village I have never seen an instance where this union has done anything to help anyone!! I would be more than glad to vote this union out of Holly, and we would all receive a raise, as we would not be spending money on dues every month for nothing. Some members of the bargaining union are not even privileged to information about negotiations. Like the other night at the council meeting and the steward stating ways the "bargaining unit" would be willing to take cuts and a few of us have no idea what those cuts might be. Now I would not call that solidarity.
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#19 Brian 1999-11-29 20:00
The Village needs to face facts and start letting people go. Its not easy but they work for the residents not the employees
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#20 Jason Hughes 1999-11-29 20:00
I know that an article can't explain everything that has transpired during meetings, but from what this article indicates, the union members were proactive in generating and providing cost saving ideas.

Sandy, it seems like the local union or local union members have attempted to be cooperative and recognize the need for some concessions. Can you provide specific examples of the union trying to run the village instead of making vague generalizations? I don't mean to be disrespectful or to single you out but there are quite a few people that post very broad generalizations but don't cite specifics which makes it nothing more than propaganda.

As Ryan pointed out, it sounds as if Les Barrett is where the negotiations are hung up, not with the teamsters. It is understandable that our schedules fill quickly as we approach the holidays but either Les simply has too much on his plate and cannot fairly represent the local union members or he is failing to fairly prioritize the teamsters needs.

There was also previous mention of Marsha Powers' salary being a bit higher because she was covering multiple positions at one time (manager and clerk). Now that the roles are shared between two people has Marsha's salary ever been balanced to reflect her role as manager only now?
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#21 Kevin Walters 1999-11-29 20:00
Contract negotiations broke down when the Village Manager produced the Personnel Manual and enacted it before the contract negotiations were completed. The Personnel Manual covered topics like overtime, vacation pay, sick leave, disciplinary procedures, grievance procedures, etc... Exactly the same things that are included in contract negotiations. There are also other topics which the Village has no right to dictate, like what employees do on their own time. The Village Council did not ask her to write the manual, nor did they review it before she enacted it. Naturally, the union had some questions about provisions in the Personnel Manual and the Village Manager has refused to answer the questions. The Business Agent, Les Barrett, said there is really nothing to discuss relative to contract negotiations until the Teamsters get some clarification from the Village Manager about her Personnel Manual. Since the Village Manager refuses to cooperate after repeated requests, the contract negotiations have been discontinued.

To me, there appear to be only three explanations for this series of events: 1) the Village Manager is so arrogant and drunk with power that she feels she can do whatever she wants, 2) the Village Manager is ignorant to think that the Personnel Manual would have no impact of the contract negotiations, or 3) the Village Manager intended to sabotage the contract negotiations.

Explanation 1 has merit because still holds true in light of what has transpired since then. If explanation 2 were true, once the Village Manager became aware of the concerns expressed by the Teamsters, then you think she would have responded to the questions so that the matter could be put behind us. That hasn't happened so it would appear that explanation 2 doesn't hold up. If explanation 3 is the answer, then nothing that has happened since then refutes that possibility. So there you have it, it appears to be arrogance or a deliberate attempt to sabotage the contract negotiations. I'll be the first to admit that maybe I am overlooking something and that maybe there is another explanation that I haven't considered.

I'd be glad to listen to any other possible explanations for what has happened. Lacking that, I don't think that the union is the culprit here.

On top of all that, management has been giving out thousands of dollars in side jobs to their cronies over the years. That work should have been done by Village employees. Now the employees are asked to take cuts because because the funds have been spent elsewhere. Again, the union isn't shouldn't be blamed for the shortfall. People, wake up!
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#22 Ryan 1999-11-29 20:00
I don't think the "union" is the problem, per se. It doesn't seem like the Teamsters are standing firm on their demands or position and refusing to negotiate or make concessions.

Sounds more like the union representative/business advisor of the employees that want to work to see the situation resolved isn't willing to prioritize them. The residents of Holly shouldn't be mad at the union, the employees should be at their ineffective liaison.
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#23 Jason Hughes 1999-11-29 20:00
Sophia, what benefit would be gained by getting rid of the union? It seems that the union members took the time to make suggestions and be flexible.
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#24 Cathy 1999-11-29 20:00
Coming from a union background I know firsthand what happens when two parties prolong working with each other. Actually, we all know firsthand by looking at the auto industry. If the right people are on the bargaining committee we could resolve a lot of problems quickly. I think you need someone that is quick thinking, passionate in negotiating, honest and knows what the hell is going on to help resolve our problems. Get the right people discussing the options so we can get on with other issues.
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#25 Sandy 1999-11-29 20:00
It sounds like a lot of the village problems would end if they got rid of the union. It sounds like the union is trying to run the village. Maybe the council should look at this and get rid of all the administrators they hired and let the union run the village and then we could see what gets done..
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#26 Sophia 1999-11-29 20:00
Get rid of the union!
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#27 Mike Gould 1999-11-29 20:00
During the 5 years that I have lived in Holly, I have never been shy when it came to publicly criticizing the Village Council when in my opinion they made poor decisions, or were out of touch with the needs of their constituents.

That said, I want to compliment them for the manner in which they finally came together as a group Tuesday night to address the need for some creative solutions to the impending financial tsunami that is soon to engulf our community.

Their 7-0 decision to modify the deductible on the employee medical health insurance was vigorously debated and then agreed upon, and the process reflected well on the group. One can only hope that this is the beginning of a new, more productive process.

By increasing the deductible from $1,500/$3,000 to $2.500/ $5,000, the Village will assume a greater potential liability, while maintaining the same benefit structure for their employees.

The savings will be substantial, it is cost neutral to the employees, and hopefully, no positions will be lost.. I only hope the union will be equally reasonable and recognize that it would be irresponsible and counter productive to file an Unfair Labor Practice in response.
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#28 Kelly 1999-11-29 20:00
Sounds like the union needs to force Mr. Barrett to negotiate before the deadline. Sounds like this guy doesn't really care about the union members here. Maybe they need to dissolve the unions and be regular workers.
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#29 Bob 1999-11-29 20:00
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#30 dayne 1999-11-29 20:00
village employee salaries total $1,823.032. village revenue was $3,492,221. how about a defined contribution retirement and health plans for any and all new village administrators and police have their deductibles picked up by a third party. is that a cost to the taxpayers?
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#31 dayne 1999-11-29 20:00
âââ €šÂ¬Ã†¦ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…“The Teamsters are willing to help you balance the budget by sharing in the sacrifices that need to be made,âà¢ÃƒÂ¢Ã¢â€šÂ¬Ã…¡Ã‚¬Ãà ¢â‚¬Å¡Ãƒâ€šÃ‚ Walters summarized.I hope the community recognizes the teamsters effort to share the pain in current horrible economic times.The police department has historically to my knowledge been the most difficult bargaining unit in the village with which to reach an agreement,âà ƒÂ¢Ã¢â‚¬Å¡Ã‚¬ Rollie Gackstetter. sounds like a warning to me.
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