Nearly 200 Suffolk union workers picketed outside the H. Lee Dennison Building in Hauppauge Friday to protest the Bellone administration’s decision to proceed with an $11.5 million lag payroll.
The union’s board of directors had rejected a plan to make up the savings from reserves in the union benefit fund.
Members pf the Association of Municipal Employees wore red union T-shirts over their coats and carried signs including “Enough is Enough” and chanting “Lag pay, no way.”
As the demonstration was breaking up, County Executive Steve Bellone walked through the remaining crowd of union workers and engaged a number of them in conversation.
“There’s absolutely a better way,” said Bellone, urging workers to press the union board to permit a vote of the entire membership on his plan to use benefit fund reserves. The county has sent emails and memos to the 5,200 union members urging them to hold a vote on the administration’s plan.
Brian Macri, AME president, said a two-week lag payroll would put an unfair burden on workers, who earn an average $44,000 a year, to solve Suffolk’s $170 million deficit. He warned that the lag could “end up costing the people of Suffolk County $30 million to pay back.”
Under the lag payroll, workers will defer 10 days’ pay through 2016. They will receive the pay at whatever salary rate they are receiving when they retire or leave county employment.
The AME agreed to a lag payroll in either 2015 or 2016 in its four-year contract. While campaigning for re-election last summer, Bellone indicated that he would not impose the two- week lag payroll.
However, the union’s board of directors later rejected Bellone‘s plan to suspend one year of county payments to the union benefit fund — which pays for dental and eye care and legal services — to produce the lag payroll’s savings.
Union officials said use of benefit fund reserves would amount to a permanent loss of county benefit dollars, while the lag only defer pay temporarily.
Bellone said the benefit fund’s reserve has $24 million, and that Suffolk would guarantee that the fund would not drop below $12 million in the coming year.
Bellone also expressed willingness to meet with the union to deal with concerns over his administration’s proposal.
Union officials asked Bellone at the event Friday to meet with union members next week. Bellone said he would have to check his schedule.