Utility Workers and supporters conduct another informational picket line

Members and supporters of Utility Workers Union of America Local 580 lined up outside the Indiana Borough Municipal Building to greet those coming in for Tuesday’s Indiana Borough council meetings.

Indiana Borough and Utility Workers Union of America Local 580 held a contract negotiation session last week, borough Manager C. Michael Foote said after Tuesday’s borough council meeting.

“We exchanged proposals,” Foote said.

He expected a follow-up meeting in early August.

The meeting will be on Aug. 5, Local 580 Vice President Brenda Darr later said outside the municipal building.

However, she also said, “there was no exchange of offers.”

There are differences over health care costs, Darr said.

Two dozen individuals were in the audience for the council meeting, most of them coming in from the pre-meeting gathering along Eighth Street.

“They haven’t got a raise in 19 months,” said Pittsburgh-based UWUA Local 580 national representative Joseph Swenglish.

He also said an arbitrator ruled in favor of the union in what allegedly was called a “frivolous” grievance by the borough, over a 19-year employee the union said Foote fired, but Foote allegedly said resigned.

Quoting the ruling issued June 30, Local 580 President Denise Brudnock said the borough has to reinstate that employee with “full back pay and benefits.”

Foote declined comment about Swenglish’s and Brudnock’s remarks, some of which came during the public comment portion of Tuesday’s meeting.

“That grievance cost the taxpayers thousands of dollars,” Brudnock told council. “Take the time and hear both sides.”

Brudnock said the borough only has won two of 13 grievances filed over the past three years.

“They are not frivolous,” the Local 580 president told council. “They are our livelihood. These taxpayers, they shouldn’t be paying for this.”

“There is no reason you can’t negotiate a contract with these people,” said Ron Airhart, a retired executive assistant to the secretary-treasurer of the United Mine Workers of America.

He told members of council, “at one time or another I have worked with you.”

There were at least five UMWA members or retirees among those gathered outside. Local 580 has drawn upon support from other unions, friends and taxpayers.

Brudnock referred to a workforce that she said shrunk from 33 to 23 during Foote’s tenure as borough manager.

“It is emotionally draining on some of us,” she said.

Another speaker before council Tuesday night was Tim Howard, who said he was trying to bring business into town, to an office building he has at 57 S. Ninth St., but which has no parking available for those using that building.

Howard said he has permit parking on Church Street, but would give up three spaces there for three in front of the South Ninth Street building.

Members of council said that matter could be referred to the Administration or Public Works committees.

Finances were a topic Tuesday night, beginning with a 25-minute hearing regarding a proposed $201,286 Community Development Block Grant budget for Indiana.

That’s up by $4,037 from the 2020 CDBG allocation for the borough.

Indiana County’s Office of Planning & Development would get a maximum of 17.5 percent or $35,286 for administrative expenses. ICOPD Assistant Director LuAnn Zak was involved in that hearing, the first of two that will take place prior to an Oct. 28 deadline for the borough to submit a CDBG application to the state Department of Community and Economic Development.

The second is likely to take place in September.

Indiana, with more than 4,000 residents (13,975 in the 2010 United States census), is eligible for being an entitlement community, which gets its own CDBG grant.

Zak said most CDBG grants go toward infrastructure or housing, some for economic development, and in Indiana for the past five years stormwater improvements.

Council’s Administration Committee presented a motion authorizing Foote to engage the services of Harrisburg-based HRG/DRS to provide professional services related to another DCED program, the Strategic Management Planning Program, at a cost not to exceed $69,800, of which the borough will be responsible for 10 percent and DCED the remaining 90 percent.