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April 9, 2014

Judge nixes ex-constables' case against town

By Denise Richardson Staff Writer
The Daily Star

---- — A judge has dismissed a grievance filed against the town of Oneonta by its constables who alleged unfair labor practices, among other charges.

Anthony Natalini and Scott Harrington were fired from constable positions in 2010. The Teamsters Local Union No. 693 filed a complaint with the state Public Employment Relations Board charging that the town terminated Natalini and Harrington because of their union affiliation, changed terms and conditions of employment without negotiation and failed to negotiate the first union agreement in good faith.

Melanie Wlasuk, administrative law judge, said in a 47-page decision dated March 28 dismissed the case in its entirety.

Robert Wood, Oneonta town supervisor, said he would report the decision for the record at tonight’s Town Board meeting.

“Obviously, we were very pleased that the judge supported the stance that the town had taken,” Wood said Tuesday. “This is good news for the town to have this issue resolved.”

The town had postponed decisions pertaining to constable staffing pending a decision on the case. If the case had been in favor of the former constables, the town may have faced paying back wages totaling six figures, Wood said.

The town currently has one full-time constable, Jeffrey Robinson, who earns $33,197, Wood said, and that level of staffing will be maintained under a department budget for 2014 of $36,697.

The constable is responsible for security at Oneonta Town Court, patrolling parks and parking enforcement, among other duties, Wood said. A survey last year revealed that town residents are satisfied with law enforcement coverage, which primarily is from state police and the Otsego County Sheriff’s Office, Wood said.

Wlasuk said she found no evidence that the town failed to negotiate in good faith with the Teamsters in the first agreement. A hearing was held Sept. 7, 2011, and Jan.11 and 12, 2012, and both parties submitted briefs, according to the decision.

The judge found that “the Teamsters has not met its burden of proof in establishing that Natalini and Harrington were terminated in retaliation for their union activities.”

The town’s “termination of the constables was grounded in neutral business reasons rather than anti-union animus,” Wlasuk wrote.

Wlasuk said the record “makes clear that Harrington and Natalini lacked respect for Wood and constantly challenged his authority as town supervisor.”

Harrington didn’t return a message left at his home Tuesday by 4:30 p.m., and a telephone number wasn’t immediately available for Natalini.

The town was “totally out of line” in its treatment of the constables, Roberta Dunker, representative of the local Teamsters union, said Tuesday.

The judge “didn’t understand what was going on at all,” she said, and PERB took too long in reviewing the case.

“I am shocked by the decision,” Dunker said. Similar cases have been appealed without success, she said.