CSEA union contract dispute heats up at Southold Town Board meeting 

Frustrations over a new union contract reached a boiling point during the Southold Town Board’s Jan. 31 meeting.

Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees Association’s Long Island Region One, which represents all of Nassau and Suffolk counties, joined Joe O’Leary, president of the CSEA Unit 8785, and around 50 members of his unit at the board’s regularly scheduled meeting to express discontent over the state of contract negotiations. Unit 8785 represents 152 white- and blue-collar Southold Town employees who work non-elected and non-appointed positions across various departments, including planning, zoning, code enforcement and waste management.

The union filed a request for a new contract June 1 of last year and the first of four negotiations between the union and the town was held July 27. On Nov. 22, the union was notified that the town had filed an impasse, which means further negotiating will be handled through mediation. The union believes this will delay reaching an agreement while town employees are working out of contract. Their previous contract ran from Jan. 1, 2020, through Dec. 31, 2022.

“Going into impasse after only four sessions is weak,” Mr. Laricchiuta said to Town Supervisor Scott Russell during the Jan. 31 meeting. “To me, I got to be honest, over the 30 years I’ve been doing this, sometimes it takes four sessions just to set the ground rules. 

“So to me, that’s a cowardly act,” he continued. “That’s an act that you’re kicking the can down the road, you don’t have any intention of settling this contract with the union and the members on your own.”

“It was clear there was going to be no settlement, so we requested impasse to move the process along,” Mr. Russell replied to Mr. Laricchiuta. “To suggest that is the cowardly or a chicken way out, is to not understand the process.”

The union’s demands are monetary, Mr. O’Leary said.

“We have in our proposals several salary enhancements, which include a one-time bonus for the employees, a base salary increase outside of a percentage raise and a percentage increase,” he said in an interview. “We want to maintain the basic terms and agreement of our contract … Whatever’s in the contract, we weren’t looking to argue about. We are just looking for more money, especially due to inflation and the price of gas and things of that nature.”

During the Jan. 31 meeting, Mr. Laricchiuta discussed the difference between union employee’s raises in recent years compared to those of Mr. Russell.

In their most recent contract, hourly and salaried employees received a 1% pay increase from June 1, 2020 to Dec. 31, 2020, a 1% pay increase throughout 2021 and a 1.5% pay increase throughout 2022. Since 2019, Mr. Russell has earned annual salary increases of approximately 2%, 2% and 6%, according to Southold Town budgets.

Responding to Mr. Laricchiuta, Mr. Russell countered that these figures don’t accurately reflect actual salaries because they don’t include additional pay such as overtime. 

“The fact of the matter is, you want to compare the salary increase of public officials, you’ve got to take it in its entirety,” Mr. Russell said. “No comp time, no COVID time, no overtime, no paid vacation, no carry over of personal days, all those things.

“You can’t cherry-pick the component you like and ignore the other aspects that you don’t like,” he added.

The union’s first mediation session is set for Wednesday, Feb. 15. Mr. O’Leary, who became Unit 8785’s president last summer, said he hoped to reach agreements before the contract expired, which would have been a first during his time as a harbor master for the town. Now, he hopes to boost more than just his union members’ paychecks.

“We’re looking to bring our blue-collar and our white-collar membership wages up,” he said. “With only 152 CSEA employees covering every inch of Southold, the morale has gotten very, very low, especially when the supervisor gives himself a monetary amount and we get not even a third of what he’s given himself.”

When asked for comment regarding the contract mediations via email, Mr. Russell replied “I can’t discuss the CSEA contract. People can get frustrated. I understand that. Contract negotiations are never easy but it is my hope that we will have an agreement as soon as possible. The Town Board has no interest in dragging anything out.”