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More union contracts about to expire soon

12/18/2015 6:00 AM |

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Riverhead’s civil service workers have been without a contract since the beginning of the year and two more town unions are about to join them as their contracts expire at the end of this month.

The Riverhead Police Benevolent Association and Superior Officers Association both have contracts that end Dec. 31. Neither union has started negotiating with the town, although a Civil Service Employee Association labor rep has been in talks since this summer.

“We are in negotiations with the town,” said Jimmy Wall, a labor relations specialist with the Long Island CSEA. “Things are progressing normally.

“The ideal situation is to start talks about six months before the contract ends,” said Mr. Wall. “Unfortunately, sometimes it just doesn’t work out that way.”

The CSEA represents close to 200 employees, according to president Terri Davis Sweeney. The union reached a four-year accord with the town, covering 2011 through 2014, just two and a half months after its last contract expired.

The PBA represents about 70 police officers and the SOA, which represents the town’s sergeants and lieutenants, has a dozen members. The PBA’s current contract began in 2012 but wasn’t approved until December of that year — nearly a year after its previous contract ran out.

The SOA worked nearly 15 months without a contract until its last contract was approved in February 2013.

Dixon Palmer has served twice as PBA president, once in the 1990s and again during the past decade. Most of the time, he said, negotiations start before the current contract ends, although he added, “Financially, I don’t know if the town has the money.”

Supervisor Sean Walter admitted money is a factor for the Town Board.

“The union employees, we’re working with them,” he said. “But the town needs some breathing room from all three unions in terms of increases. So let’s just put it this way: We’re not there yet.”

At the time the last PBA contract was approved, Town Board members commented publicly that they expected police officers to start contributing to their health insurance coverage when the next contract came up. At that time, the town and union agreed instead to create a sixth step that new hires must get to before reaching the top of the pay scale. Because the town was hiring five new officers at the time, Mr. Walter called it a bigger savings for taxpayers.

According to Mr. Wall, no impasse has been reached at this point between the CSEA and the town. But there’s also no clear timeline for when an agreement may be reached.

“In this day and age, it’s possible it could go longer,” he said.

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