Editorial

Editorial: Union's deal sends a message

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino addresses county officials

Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino addresses county officials and citizens during the State of the County at the Westchester County Courhouse in White Plains. (April 25, 2012) (Credit: Faye Murman)

The ongoing effort to control Westchester County's health care costs just got a needed booster shot. More than a hundred unionized workers will start kicking in for their coverage.

They are the first union employees in the county to reach such an arrangement, but shouldn't be the last.

The tentative contract reached between the county and Teamsters Local 456, which represents roughly 120 midlevel managers, will pay 10 percent of their premiums effective July 1 and 12.5 percent starting in 2015. All new hires will pay 20 percent from the start.

Both the union and County Executive Rob Astorino's administration are to be commended for the compromise.

The contract, already ratified by the union but awaiting approval from the Board of Legislators, provides a 1.7 percent average wage increase over seven years, retroactive to 2009.

Although the deal Astorino announced Wednesday night at his third State of the County Address is no cure for the county's dire fiscal health, the compromise sends an important message to the other seven public unions -- which are at various stages in negotiations -- as well as others across the state: Reasonable concessions are the new reality. While savings with this contract will be modest, the bigger value comes if other unions follow the precedent.

At $140 million, the county's annual health care costs are out of control and taxpayers can't afford to pick up the entire tab year after year, especially when their own bills are escalating too.

It's hard to dispute that the system is tipped against taxpayers, especially with such heavy health care burdens and county expenditures mandated by the state making up 82 cents out of every tax dollar spent. In his speech, Astorino positioned himself as a leader providing essential services, fixing a broken system and making tough choices.

But making fair choices -- ones that protect the county's most vulnerable populations, like children and seniors -- is equally important. More savings on spiraling costs like health care and pensions should help make some of those difficult decisions a little easier.

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