Suffolk’s powerful Police Benevolent Association balked at teeing up for County Executive Steve Bellone’s annual golf outing Wednesday out of frustration over a lack of serious talks to hammer out a pact on $30 million in health concessions that Bellone already budgeted for this year.
“I did not purchase any tickets or sponsorship for this event as we have in the past, and at this time we are evaluating all of our relationships,” said Noel DiGerolamo, president of the politically potent, 1,700-member police union. Last year the PBA donated $10,000 to Bellone’s campaign as an event sponsor, according to state elections records.
DiGerolamo said the union and top Bellone deputies have met only a “few times” for negotiations this year, even though the county executive has sought millions in givebacks for this year, which is half over.
”There’s a certain level of discomfort when organized labor is asked to provide tens of millions of dollars in savings, which are already in the budget and yet we have only met a few times,” he said. Without an ongoing effort, he said, “I don’t know how we achieve the goal.” Bellone aides declined to comment.
The issue of continuing political donations came up earlier this month in a meeting of Suffolk’s 10 county unions. The Association of Municipal Employees has been without a contract for two years and the rest are up at year’s end. Bellone’s top budget aide forecast the 2018 budget has a gaping $144 million shortfall, without making any provision for wage hikes.
Deputy sheriffs and Suffolk Community College's faculty union also did not take part in Bellone’s event, but the 6,000-member AME and the 1,800-member correction union had committed to take part in Bellone’s golf outing before those discussions. Other unions did not return calls for comment.
Louis Vicusi, correction union president, said his union agreed to be a golf sponsor in late April, long before the talks among union leaders occurred 2-1/2 weeks ago. “We all have the same concerns,” he said, but declined to comment further.
While admitting frustration with health talks, Dan Levler, AME president, said,“It’s very important to have strong relationships with our union brothers and sisters, but also officials who stand with us in this national crisis,” referring to the U.S. Supreme Court ruling throwing out the law permitting unions to collect dues from workers who are not union members. Levler added that both sides must “find a way to resolve the expanding health expenses without a cost shift to our membership.”
Union concerns were heightened last month when Bellone, in his state of the county message, labeled health insurance costs—now 15 percent of Suffolk’s budget—as “unsustainable.” He called for a consultant to determine what is driving up costs, and DiGerolamo said unions are not involved in that effort.
Kevin Peterman, president of Suffolk Community College’s faculty union, which represents 1,880 full- and part-time staff, called Bellone’s statements “inappropriate” in light of ongoing talks on concessions. “Negotiations should take place at the table, not in the press,” he said.
DiGerolamo’s salvo is not the first he had directed at Bellone. He earlier endorsed GOP comptroller John Kennedy for re-election while Bellone is strongly backing Southampton Supervisor Jay Schneiderman. “As always, I’m am willing to sit down in collaborative fashion to work with the county,” said DiGerolamo. “But such a meeting requires both parties.”