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Cheshire Highway Department to Unionize

By Jack GuerinoiBerkshires Staff
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CHESHIRE, Mass. — The town's Highway Department employees have filed the official paperwork needed to join a union.
Town Administrator Mark Webber told the Selectmen last week that he received documents from the state notifying the town that the highway workers were going through the process of joining a union.
"I received an interesting letter today and it looks like the Cheshire Highway Department will formally petition the state to become a bonified bargaining unit," Webber said on Tuesday.
Webber said he contacted the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees to go over the process and was told the state confirms data on the employees and more than 50 percent of the employees have to sign on to officially join the union.
"They suggested that within two months, good-faith bargaining could commence," he said. 
Webber said he was concerned about negotiating wages because town meeting has already set the budget for the 10 months left in the fiscal year, however, according to AFSCME, other items can still be negotiated. 
Selectwoman Carol Francesconi said department employees weren't happy with the last package the town offered.
"They didn't like what was offered and we always discuss with them year after year what we think is a fair offer and they usually agreed," she said. "But this year we made a few changes." 
The board also heard from the owner of Berkshire Hydroponics, Timothy Mac,  who asked if the town would accept a marijuana dispensary.
"I wanted to see where the town stood on allowing recreational grows and stores," he said. "I am in the process of applying so before I put down the town of Cheshire. I wanted to get your blessing."  
Chairman Robert Ciskowski said the town does not have a policy and that the Planning Board has yet to hash out a bylaw.
"With us, it is definitely new territory, but it is still evolving and we are following what other towns have done," Ciskowski said. "We don't have a policy at this point but we are working towards it ... it is unchartered waters for us." 
Highway Superintendent Blair Crane said he walked the Cheshire Elementary School grounds and that he anticipates it would take his full crew three days to bring the grounds back up to snuff.
"It hasn't been maintained for some time … and there are a lot of fields up there," he said. "There is a lot of grass up there and when you start to chew at it piece by piece it is a big task."  
He added that after they gauge how much work it will take the Highway Department to maintain the field, they may have to scale back the level of maintenance they provide.
"As we move along we are going to have to figure out what level we are going to maintain that property and how involved we are going to get up there," he said. "You can go up there and just mow the grass but it's the little details that get away from you." 
The state Department of Transportation also approved the town's fiscal 2018 Chapter 90 road money. The town will receive $200,333.
"That's right around where it was," Crane said. "It won't go to waste." 

Tags: DPW,   public unions,   

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