By DAN GUZEWICH Staff writer

Oneida County continues to press its case with unions for a wage freeze for all county workers next year.

County Executive Anthony J. Picente Jr. is seeking wage freeze approvals from the four unions next year as he assembles his 2011 budget. Despite pressures on both the revenue and expense sides, he hopes to submit a spending plan to the Board of Legislators that carries no property tax increase. A pay freeze agreement from the four bargaining groups is needed because otherwise unionized employees would automatically receive step movement on the salary schedule.

"It’s really a negotiated piece," said Picente today. All four of the contracts with these bargaining groups expire at the end of this year.

The county executive said he has already met with the two unions that represent sheriff’s office deputies and corrections officers, plus 911 emergency dispatchers, and was to meet today with the White and Blue Collar units. The White and Blue units have already met with the county’s negotiators, but today’s scheduled session was the first one that Picente was to sit in on.

In the absence of a wage freeze, Picente predicts there will be staff cuts next year beyond attrition and retirements. He says a freeze could save the county upwards of $3.5 million, alleviating the need to cut labor costs. This year’s county budget authorizes 1,635 full-time employees. The budget totals $360 million.

The four unions represent more than 1,000 county workers. They are: : United Public Service Employees Union, White Collar; UPSEU, Blue Collar; Oneida County Sheriff’s department Employees Local 1249; and Oneida County Sheriff’s Deputies PBA.

Salary adjustments for non-unionized employees typically mirror what the unionized workers get.

Last week the county executive sought an extension on the date by which he has to submit his budget to the Board of Legislators, from Oct. 5 to Oct. 13. The Board of Legislators is expected to act on the request at Wednesday’s meeting.

Picente said he needed the additional time to: allow further discussion of a wage freeze; plan for layoffs in the absence of a freeze; and calculate the savings from county workers taking advantage of state-authorized early retirement incentives. The deadline to sign up to sign up for the retirement program is Thursday and so far 53 county workers are in, Picente said. Once the county knows who is retiring by year’s end, it can then determine which positions need to be filled and which ones can be eliminated.

"There’s a lot of calculations that go into the estimated savings," he said.