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Sheriff's deputies, SCCC workers get new union contracts in Suffolk

Suffolk County Community College.

Suffolk County Community College. Credit: Danielle Silverman

The Suffolk County Legislature has approved new union contracts for deputy sheriffs and Suffolk County Community College employees that will cost at least $30 million through 2024, county budget officials said. 

About 250 deputy sheriffs will receive raises totaling 10%, while 600 SCCC workers will get 12% total raises under the contracts approved March 17.

The sheriffs' contract, covering 2019-2024, is expected to cost between $12 million and $15 million more over its lifetime than if no deal were reached, budget officials said. The precise cost was not available last week. 

The 2017-2024 community college contract with the Association of Municipal Employees will cost about $18 million, a union representative said.

The agreements got the green light as the coronavirus pandemic began to shake the economy. 

“While the future may be uncertain, our college workers will maintain financial security with good benefits for the next four years,” AME president Daniel Levler said in a statement.

Legislators approved the contracts by 16-1 vote margins after debating whether to provide financial security to employees — who are typically also county residents — or save taxpayer money given the economic climate.

Legis. Robert Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) opposed the contracts, and Legis. Anthony Piccirillo (R-Holtsville) abstained from voting.

They said Suffolk couldn’t afford the contracts with plummeting sales tax revenues and increasing numbers of unemployed residents.

“It’s about the ability of taxpayers to pay contracts, and if they’re all out of work, we’re not going to be able to pay,” Piccirillo said.

Other lawmakers said county government should provide reliable employment, particularly in such uncertain times. 

“We have to make some tough choices, but it shouldn’t start on the people's backs,” said Legis. William Spencer (D-Centerport), the majority leader.

The deals with the sheriff's deputies and college employees resembled six other union contracts approved by county legislators since 2019.

Excluding the SCCC agreement, those contracts are expected to cost an additional $471.6 million through 2024, the Legislature’s nonpartisan Budget Review Office said on March 11.

The contract costs were expected to rise by about $40 million in 2020 alone, the report said. 

The county spent over $1 billion on salaries and expenses including overtime, longevity pay and car allowances for nearly 10,000 employees last year, according to a Budget Review Office report on March 6.

Active employees received average total compensation of $108,158, the report said.

Legis. Al Krupski (D-Cutchogue) said officials will have to "take a comprehensive view of how we operate in the future if this is a severe downturn."

The college contract covers employees who are not teachers or administrators, Levler said. The union workers, including custodians and receptionists, had average take home pay of $45,000 before the new deal, a union representative said.

The deputy sheriffs' agreement has provisions similar to those in other recently law enforcement union contracts. Those pacts limit sick days for newer employees and require union members to work an extra day a year for firearms training, which officials said reduces overtime costs.

Deputies' average annual salaries will increase to between $131,398 and $176,809 under the new contract, according to a county budget review office report. Salaries now range from $100,425 to $135,133.

The deputy sheriff contract maintains a six-step pay scale for those hired before May 1, 2017, and a 24-step scale for those hired after that date. 

Deputy sheriffs had been without a contract since 2018, while the agreement with college workers expired in 2017. Both unions have ratified the contracts.

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