As union negotiations continue with Riverhead town, CSEA fears cost of living increase will fall short

While numerous apartments, businesses and restaurants have been opened in Riverhead in recent years, the union that represents most Riverhead Town employees raised concerns last week that its members may not be able to afford those restaurants and apartments under their current salaries.

The Riverhead Civil Service Employees Association’s last contract ended on Dec. 31, 2022, and the town is now engaged in negotiations on a new contract.

“One of the main contentions has been the cost of living and salary,” Liam Russertt, a labor relations specialist for the Riverhead CSEA, said at last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting.

The CSEA represents most town employees, with the exception of police and elected or appointed officials. Riverhead’s chapter has 185 members, according to Mr. Russertt.

About 20 CSEA members attended last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting, at which only Mr. Russertt spoke.

What’s on the table? Neither the town nor the CSEA is not saying.

“We just gave them our final proposal and we haven’t heard back yet, so we’re not going to make it public,” Riverhead Councilman Tim Hubbard said in an interview Monday.

“I think we’re close,” Mr. Russertt said at last Wednesday’s Town Board meeting.

”We just want to make sure that we understand, that as much as the infrastructure is being redeveloped here … that the members of the neighborhood can participate in patronizing those businesses, and that they have the money to go and eat at the restaurants,” Mr. Russertt said.

He said the Consumer Price Index in the area increased 9% over the past year.

“Between gas and food, everyone feels it,” he said.

Mr. Russertt said that of the 185 CSEA members, 60% make less than $60,000 per year. He said three CSEA members were involved in saving lives as members of the Riverhead Fire Department recently.

Riverhead’s three major employee unions are all in contract negotiations this year, according to Bill Rothaar, the town’s finance administrator.

In addition to CSEA, he said Riverhead’s Police Benevolent Association and the Superior Officers Association, which represents sergeants and lieutenants, both agreed to 2% pay increases for 2021 and 2022, avoiding negotiations during the pandemic. Those unions are now back in negotiations for upcoming years, he said.

“I don’t disagree with a lot of what was said at the meeting,” Mr. Hubbard said.

“Some of our salaries are on the lower end of CSEA, some are in the middle and some are up, when you compare them with other towns.

“But I agree that the CSEA is the backbone of the town and that they need to be appropriately paid,” he added.

“We’re having a problem at times hiring people, because the salary is too low,” Mr. Hubbard said. “Hopefully, with what we offered them, we’ll have a contract shortly.”