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Suffolk water workers charge service cut on mains, hydrants

Suffolk County Water Authority union members, locked in a contract battle, said broken water mains and fire hydrants are not being repaired for hours or days as management tries to cut overtime.

More than 30 members of Local 393, Utility Workers Union of America, demonstrated Monday outside the legislature offices in Hauppauge, holding signs asking for a contract and criticizing executive pay.

Inside, they then aired grievances to lawmakers during the public comment portion of a meeting of the Committee on the Environment, Planning and Agriculture. Committee chairwoman Kara Hahn (D-East Setauket) said she would follow up on their complaints about repairs on fire hydrants and water mains.

Timothy Hopkins, general counsel for the water authority, said it has been a policy for years to repair nonemergency water main and fire hydrant breaks during the next regular business day, instead of paying time and a half or double time.

"The union members are trying to influence the collective bargaining negotiations going on," Hopkins said. "We've offered to negotiate, and consistently, they're unprepared."

Overtime in fiscal year 2014, which ended June 30, went to $1.8 million from $1.9 million the year before, he said.

Nick Caracappa, president of UWUA Local 393, said while his members haven't had a contract for two years, they were there protesting working conditions and potential public safety issues.

"Things are getting worse and worse, because we're being forced to cut corners," he said.
Caracappa also criticized political hires at the water authority. The legislature appoints the board members who oversee the Suffolk County Water Authority.

Union members said they used to get calls in the middle of the night to make repairs, and would still be willing to do it.

Hopkins said the authority had a duty to control costs. He said the "vast majority" of breaks are repaired immediately, including all of those in the winter time when leaking water could create icy road conditions.
 

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