Mediator suggests 1 to 2 percent raises for Southold workers

A state mediator settling a contract dispute between Southold and the town’s civil service employee’s union has released a fact-finding report that suggests the salary increases the union is seeking would “make it difficult, if not impossible for the town to function.”

The report, which isn’t binding, also suggested employees contribute more to their health insurance policies, and that the town should institute an evaluation procedure.

The report also calls the union’s request that its president to be able to leave work for three hours each day for union business would be “excessive,”

But the mediator, Stephen Bluth of the state’s Public Employment Relation Board, also suggested the town adopt a union request to expand the bereavement leave benefits to extend to step-children and step-parents.

“I do not suggest these recommendations constitute a perfect resolution to this matter,” Mr. Bluth wrote in the fact-finding report. “However, they represent a reasonable and relatively efficient means by which this potentially acrimonious dispute may be ended.”

Reached last week, Tom Skabry, the president of the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents most non-police town employees, said he had glanced over the report and that union members planned to meet and discuss the findings in depth soon.

“I’ll reserve any comments, because the CSEA hasn’t actually performed a thorough analysis of the report yet,” Mr. Skabry said.

Southold Supervisor Scott Russell also declined to comment in detail on the findings, saying only that “the report speaks for itself.”

The Town Board accepted the fact-finding report during a meeting last month.

The town and the CSEA have been at an impasse in negotiations over the union’s latest contract since June 2013. The previous three-year contract between the town and union expired in December. The union’s members have been working without a contract since Jan. 1.

The CSEA had proposed tying salary increases to the Consumer Price Index, with a minimum increase of 3 percent each year and a maximum increase of 7.5 percent, excluding the annual step increases in salary if eligible.

But Mr. Bluth determined that the union’s proposal was “overly rich.”

“The numbers proposed do not bear any resemblance to those settlements in the county’s East End towns,” he continued, noting that other town’s salaries are increasing about 1 to 2 percent annually.

He suggested the new contract include a similar rate, with a 1 percent salary increase in the first year, along with a one-time .5 percent cash bonus. Salaries in the second and third years, under Mr. Bluth’s recommendation, would increase 1.25 percent.

Mr. Bluth also mentions in the report that while “union presidents can be a positive force in cementing relationships with administration and mutually solving problems,” he found “no basis” to accept the union’s proposal to allow the president three hours a day for union business.

Instead, Mr. Bluth suggested that the president be allowed two hours per week for union activities, with the union reimbursing the town for the cost of those hours.

The fact-finding report also suggests the town remove a six-month waiting period for health insurance coverage, since such a practice is now illegal under the Affordable Care Act.

The report calls the town’s request for employees to pay 20 percent into their health insurance costs “unfair,” and suggests the costs increase by 10 percent to better match surrounding towns.

Mr. Bluth concludes by urging the town and union to accept the terms listed in the fact-finding report.

If the CSEA accepts the state’s findings, the town and union would draft a contract using the terms described by Mr. Bluth. If the CSEA doesn’t accept the fact-finding report, negotiations would continue, a state Public Employment Relation Board representative said.

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