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Riverhead union workers stage ‘silent show of solidarity’ for new contract

05/18/2016 9:45 PM |

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Riverhead’s civil service workers staged a “silent show of solidarity” Tuesday night at town hall to express their displeasure about the lack of progress with contract negotiations.

Wearing red shirts that read “CSEA: United We Bargain, Divided We Beg,” union workers occupied the first few rows during the Town Board’s regular meeting Wednesday to represent their unit’s nearly 180 members.

“We are here to have a silent show of solidarity to show the Town Board that we are distressed at the way negotiations have been going and we want to let them know that we’re going to stand together and fight for our new contract,” said Rachel Langert, a labor relations specialist for CSEA Long Island.

The Riverhead CSEA has been without a contract since the end of 2014. Its previous contract began in 2011 and carried base salary increases of zero for the first two years, one percent for the third year and 1.5 percent for the fourth year.

“We have been meeting with the town, but we have not had very much progress over the last two years now,” Ms. Langert said. “CSEA members make the town work. Just about everything that happens, happens because of a CSEA member.”

Riverhead Town Supervisor Sean Walter said the town’s ability to give out raises is limited due to the state’s tax levy cap law, which limits tax levy increases to two percent or the amount of the Consumer Price Index, if that number is lower than two percent.

This year, the CPI was less than one percent.

“The town has made an offer to them that is consistent with the New York State tax cap and they’re not willing to accept it,” Mr. Walter said after the meeting. “The town has a very limited ability to raise revenue. The fixed cost just in health insurance alone went up almost $600,000 last year.”

Mr. Walter said CSEA employees also get step increases, which increase the salary based on experience and other factors.

The supervisor added that even if the base salary increase is zero, most of the employees are getting increases equal to 1.5 percent, except for the employees at the highest level on the pay scale, Mr. Walter said.

“Every employee that’s not stepped out got raises,” he said. “The town has no ability to go beyond the tax cap.”

The town is also negotiating with the Police Benevolent Association and the Superior Officers Association, the two units that represent police officers in the town. Those contracts expired at the end of 2015, according to town finance administrator Bill Rothaar.

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Photo: Riverhead CSEA members have been without a contract since 2014. (Credit: Barbaraellen Koch)

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