Southold CSEA pressures town for higher pay during contract negotiations

The Civil Service Employees Association is mounting pressure on Southold Town Supervisor Scott Russell to agree to its terms for a new contract.

About 50 CSEA members from across Long Island attended the Southold Town Board’s regularly scheduled meeting Tuesday to support the workers of CSEA Unit 8785. This unit represents over 150 white- and blue-collar non-elected and non-appointed Southold Town employees who hold positions across various departments. 

They are currently working out of contract, as the previous agreement ended Dec. 31, 2022. Four negotiations took place last year before the town filed an impasse in November, calling on a mediator to handle further negotiations. The first of these mediated sessions was held Feb. 15 and lasted for seven hours.

The next session is slated for Thursday, March 16, and the slow pace of negotiations is frustrating some CSEA members. “The can is still being kicked down the road,” Unit 8785 president Joe O’Leary wrote in an email.

While Mr. O’Leary could not attend Tuesday’s board meeting, leadership from across the island, including Jarvis Brown, first vice president of CSEA Long Island Region One, which represents all of Nassau and Suffolk counties, did attend.

CSEA leadership caught public attention Tuesday with a truck parked in front of Southold Town Hall that displayed the union’s messaging. (Credit: Nicholas Grasso)

“It doesn’t make sense why we’re fighting for small increments,” Mr. Brown said. “Let’s be fair, let’s be forward, because we want a fair contract and we want it now. There is no reason to go to March 16. There is no reason to push this down the road. 

“You heard our proposals, we heard your proposals,” he continued. “For seven hours we sat in that room and we went back and forth, back and forth for a membership that has earned it, that deserves it. You know that, I know that.”

Unsatisfied with a lack of resolution at this meeting, the CSEA increased pressure on Mr. Russell Tuesday. In front of town hall, the CSEA parked a truck with digital screens which displayed a rotating series of messages. The screens called for a fair contract and directly addressed the supervisor with the message “Supervisor Russell: Say yes to our offer now.”

But some rank-and-file members from across Long Island who stood in the back of the room called for more. They want to return with “the rat,” a large, inflatable rat nicknamed “Scabby.” Inflatable rats are often used by unions to draw public attention to situations they feel are unfair. Such was the case in Hempstead a few years ago, where members rallied around the rat in front of the town hall.

“You’ll be seeing us again,” Robert Bogacki, a member of Hempstead Town CSEA Unit 880, said to the board Tuesday evening. “Laura Gillen was the supervisor in the town of Hempstead; you can look up what we did to her. We destroyed that poor woman’s life.

“Just know that we will be back,” he added. “This is serious to us and we’re good at this kind of stuff.”

In a telephone interview following the meeting, Mr. Russell said the comments and displays directed at him will have no bearing on the outcome of the contract, which is ratified by the entire Town Board.

“You don’t take that personally,” he said. “I’ve been doing this a long time, and that’s sort of a strategy. What you do is you separate the supervisor from the herd.”

“Everything is going the way it’s going,” he added “All of the comments, trucks and all of that aren’t going to make a bit of difference.”

Heading into negotiations last year, Mr. O’Leary’s previous told The Suffolk Times that his members demanded “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.”

While CSEA leaders expressed discontent over the failure to reach a resolution, Mr. Russell said the Southold negotiating team reported positive progress to the Town Board.

“I think both sides have been working hard to find common ground,” he said. “I do not believe there is a lack of sincerity on a meaningful and fair contract on both sides. I think both sides are committed to that and finding common ground.”