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St. Lawrence County public defenders form union

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CANTON — St. Lawrence County public defenders have formed a union primarily because of unhappiness over the county’s treatment of compensatory time.

“Comp time is an important one for all of us,” said Stephen G. Ballan, president of the St. Lawrence County Indigent Defenders. “We work a tremendous number of hours. We’re dedicated public servants. It’s not that we necessarily want to take all that time. We want to be treated fairly.”

The union will represent eight attorneys in the Public Defenders and Conflict Defenders offices. Those attorneys are paid for a 35-hour week, but they often put in more time because of the requirements of the job. Whatever compensatory time they amass is lost if they do not use it within 120 days.

In 2012, public defenders gave back in unused comp time more than 2,000 hours, Mr. Ballan said.

“That’s significant,” he said. “That is the equivalent in hours of a whole other employee.”

The issue came to a head in the fall after the county settled a contract with Civil Service Employees Association that caps compensatory time at 140 hours. The attorneys are not represented by CSEA but are treated in the matter of comp time as management, which follows the CSEA contract.

As a result, any comp hours above the 140-hour cap were lost, Director of Human Resources Christopher S. Boulio said.

“I think the straw that broke the camel’s back was the county’s unilateral decision to take away hundreds of hours of comp time we had already earned,” Mr. Ballan said. “All comp time over 140 hours was just gone. We just thought it wasn’t right.”

The public defenders would have extended the union offer to assistant district attorneys who also work lengthy hours, but they were excluded because of a provision in the state’s Taylor Law, which includes limitations of unions for public employees, Mr. Ballan said.

“We would have joined forces with them,” he said. “Our issues are the same, but they’re not allowed.”

Mr. Boulio and union representatives will meet soon to set negotiating dates.

The county did not have a chance to talk with the attorneys about the change in comp time before the union was formed, Mr. Boulio said.

“It’s something we’ll discuss at the table,” he said.

The indigent defenders union brings the number of collective bargaining units at the county to six. They include CSEA, employees of the Solid Waste Department, correctional officers, sheriff’s deputies and a sheriff’s supervisory unit.

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