Union rejected new pact: Greenport mayor

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03/17/2012 7:00 AM |

For the second time in less than a year, Greenport’s municipal union members have rejected a contract proposal that the Village Board and union leadership had agreed upon.

Mayor David Nyce, who disclosed the outcome of the vote this week, said he was “stunned” that a majority of union members voted it down.

“For it to be voted down a second time, I don’t want to speak for them, but there clearly seems to be some disconnect between their bargaining team and the unit itself,” Mr. Nyce said. “We will continue to try and negotiate this to everyone’s benefit.”

Village CSEA union president Eileen Wingate did not return a phone call seeking comment.

The union last ratified a contract in 2007 during former Mayor Dave Kapell’s administration. After Mr. Nyce was elected in 2010, seven contract negotiation sessions were held until February 2011, when the parties reached an impasse. The matter was then mediated through the state’s Public Employment Relations Board, and the first proposed contract was voted down by the union about five months later.

The most hotly debated issue is health insurance contributions. Union employees and retirees currently receive full coverage from the village, except for dental and optical benefits, to which workers contribute.

Under the recently defeated contract, Mr. Nyce said, current employees would contribute 2 percent toward health benefits, 20 percent for new hires and 5 percent for employees who retired after May 2012.

“I don’t feel we went into this contract negotiation planning to take advantage of the economic atmosphere,” Mr. Nyce said. “The cost of health benefits is going through the roof and I think it’s unrealistic at this point to continue to expect municipalities to cover the full cost of that.”

Mr. Nyce said the village also attempted to make salaries more equitable among workers by offering annual raises in a lump sum of $1,000 per employee rather than by a salary percentage. The move aimed to deter salary compression, the term used to describe a wide earnings gap between employees who make the most and those at the bottom end of the wage scale.

An overtime revision was also included in the new deal. Hours worked on Christmas, New Year’s Day and Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday would be counted toward an employee’s regular work week. Currently, holidays aren’t counted toward overtime. In exchange for that, the $1,000 proposed raise would be reduced to $250.

In addition, workers would no longer receive holiday pay on their birthdays and would instead be given an extra personal day.

While a wage freeze has been in place since the last contract expired, the Village Board has granted annual “merit raises” averaging between $1 and $5 per hour, Mr. Nyce said. Merit raises are issued to employees who consistently work “above and beyond” their normal duties, he said.

The next step in the negotiating process is to seek the assistance of a fact finder. Both sides have agreed upon a candidate, who is expected to announce a contract recommendation next month.

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