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Suffolk panel balks at requiring appointees to pay for health care

Members of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal

Members of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees pack a Suffolk Legislature meeting in Hauppauge on Sept. 27, 2017. Credit: Newsday / David M. Schwartz

A Suffolk legislative committee on Wednesday rejected a proposal to require all nonunion employees to pay a portion of their health insurance, as public employee union members warned the county against imposing a similar requirement on them.

Hundreds of Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, many wearing red shirts with the words “Standing Strong,” spilled out of the meeting room in Hauppauge.

The bill defeated by the Government Operations Committee would have saved the county $850,000 a year by requiring 323 nonunion workers, including political appointees and prosecutors, to pay 15 percent of health care costs starting Jan. 1. That would cost employees $1,500 a year for an individual plan or $3,154 for a family plan, county officials said.

While it wouldn’t affect union employees, union president Daniel Levler said, “If this is what will be asked of the unions, we will be vocally opposed.”

To cheers from the crowd, the committee voted to remove the bill from regular consideration, although some lawmakers said it would return if the county reaches an agreement with unions to pay for health care.

The Suffolk Legislature has rejected a number of County Executive Steve Bellone’s proposals to balance the budget. Earlier this year, a bill to stop automatic pay raises for nonunion employees failed to pass, and lawmakers failed repeated attempts to double a $55 fee on traffic tickets.

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman said last month that requiring nonunion “exempt” employees to pay was intended to “send a message” to other unions negotiating with Bellone’s administration.

Bellone’s proposed budget released earlier this month estimates $30 million in savings in 2018 from union concessions.

“Our employees do a great job, but health care costs are out of control and taxpayers cannot be forced to bear that burden alone,” Bellone said in a statement Wednesday.

All union and nonunion employees hired after 2012 currently pay 15 percent of their health insurance costs.

More than a dozen AME employees and nonunion workers spoke against requiring them to pay into health care, with many saying they had taken lower-paid positions compared to the private sector in order to qualify for the benefits.

The workers proposed other ways to cuts costs or increase revenue, including reducing the number of take-home county cars, reducing outside contracting for services that can be done in-house, and increasing sales or property taxes.

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