Southampton Town Officials Spar Over Givebacks to Union
By Stephen J. Kotz
Is the honeymoon between new Southampton Town Supervisor Jay Schneiderman and the Republican minority on the town board over? That seemed to the case last week when Mr. Schneiderman put forth a plan to make several adjustments to the town’s contract with the Civil Service Employee Association, which he said would eliminate a number of inequities in the current deal.
The measure drew a strong rebuke from Councilwoman Christine Scalera. She was joined by her fellow Republican Stan Glinka in voting against the package, which nonetheless passed, by a 3-2 majority with Mr. Schneiderman being joined by Democratic newcomers, Councilman John Bouvier and Councilwoman Julie Lofstad.
“I think this is a reasonable package. I think it is well within the town’s financial ability and it corrects a lot of longstanding inequities,” Mr. Schneiderman said of the measures. Among other things, they moved up scheduled pay raises for union members, reduced health insurance premiums by half for those union members who are required to contribute to their plans, gave long-term town employees the opportunity to receive payment for up to 45 unused sick days when they retire, and restored union status to six positions, which had been removed from the union ranks over the years. The town’s current CSEA contract expires at the end of 2017.
“I’ve gone over this a thousand times in my mind and I think it is wrong,” Ms. Scalera said. “I feel the way it is being proposed is very one-sided. I have a primary fiduciary duty to the taxpayers.”
Ms. Scalera estimated the give-backs would cost the town an estimated $500,000 over the next two years and said it created a dangerous precedent of renegotiating portions of contract that had been the subject of the collective bargaining process.
“I would support a reopening of the contract to discuss potential amendments,” she said. “I cannot support this one-sided deal.”
Mr. Glinka complained that Mr. Schneiderman and Laura Smith, the union’s president, negotiated the deal and did not include Republican lawmakers in their deliberations. “The conversations that are going on right now never really happened between ourselves and the union leader,” he told the Town Hall audience that included dozens of union members on March 22.
The vote marked the first major disagreement between the members of the board’s two camps, and the next day, the Southampton Town Republican Committee sought to make some political hay out of the matter, sending out an email with the headline, “Democrats Begin Their Looting Southampton Town Coffers.”
Although Mr. Schneiderman is an Independence Party member, he ran last fall with the Democrats’ endorsement.
The Democrats “began the first of their dramatic spending sprees at the expense of the Southampton taxpayer. This latest recipient of their political kickbacks was the CSEA union,” stated the Republican message. “Despite having two years remaining on a union contract, the Democrat controlled board of Lofstad, Bouvier and Schneiderman chose to go outside the contract terms and give massive increases to their union backers pay and benefits.”
The email also took a shot at Mr. Schneiderman personally, stating he had “demanded that he be issued a brand new Jeep Grand Cherokee Laredo,” whereas other recent supervisors had been issued smaller, fuel-efficient vehicles.
On Friday, Mr. Schneiderman dismissed the Republican criticism, saying the agreement, which was reached to settle a grievance brought by the union to the Public Employee Relations Board late last year, was simply a matter of “doing the right thing.”
Many of the concessions that were eliminated were imposed when the town was in austerity, and now that the town has a major surplus, it’s time to loosen the purse strings, he said.
The supervisor rejected the Republican criticism that he was being feckless with taxpayers’ dollars, pointing to his record of never having raised property taxes in 16 years of public office as both East Hampton Town supervisor and later a Suffolk County legislator. “I’m not going to jeopardize that,” he said.
The supervisor estimated the package would only cost about $300,000 over two years. It includes, among other things, moving a scheduled pay raise from May to March this year and from March to January next year. Depending on their hiring date, some employees contribute 20 percent to their family health insurance plans, but that will be reduced to 10 percent, and the payment to those who opt out of insurance coverage will also be increased. The agreement will also allow town workers who have at 20 years of experience to receive a payout at retirement for half of their accrued unused sick days up to a maximum of 45.
Another measure would return to the union contract schedule six positions, which had been removed from it, including that of Ms. Smith, the union leader. Although Mr. Glinka questioned the appropriateness of that, Mr. Schneiderman countered that it was one of more than 30 job titles that had been removed from the union over the years.
Despite the rancor, Mr. Schneiderman said he believed the entire board respected the union. “All five of us care deeply about the workforce of this town, even though we may differ in our approach,” he said. That tone was echoed by Ms. Scalera, who read a long statement at last week’s meeting, beginning with her praising union members for “their hard work and contributions to our town.”