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State court pay hikes raise concerns for workers on Long Island, NYC

A proposed six-year contract providing modest pay hikes for state court employees has been approved, but it's raising concerns on Long Island and in New York City, where the cost of living is higher.

More than 1,500 Suffolk and Nassau workers, ranging from courthouse officers to court reporters, clerks and interpreters, have been without a contract for three years.

The Civil Service Employees Association, representing 5,700 court employees, overwhelmingly ratified the proposed contract in June -- over objections from union leaders in Nassau, Suffolk and the city.

Those officials, who are still negotiating with the state, say the proposal by the Office of Court Administration demands too many givebacks and doesn't keep pace with the area's rising cost of living.

But their solidarity was threatened recently when the president of the Suffolk County Court Employees Association -- previously part of the coalition opposing the contract -- decided to endorse the deal and bring it to a vote.

"We felt if that contract was to go through [the CSEA] it would be very tough for any other union to get anything different from what CSEA got, because they were the biggest percentage of employees," said SCCEA president Chris Manning.

At a union meeting last Wednesday in Ronkonkoma, where Manning announced that ballots had been mailed to his 870 members, Nassau and city union leaders protested outside, handing out fliers attacking the state proposal.

"We totally oppose it," said Billy Imandt, president of the Court Officers Benevolent Association of Nassau County, which has about 800 members. "We want at least the rate of inflation . . . and they're offering us half that."

An Office of Court Administration spokesman refused to comment on the contract or negotiations, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's press office did not return a request for comment.

Imandt and other union leaders said the contract provides for a total of 6 percent in pay raises -- 2 percent in each of the past three years, plus a signing bonus.

But Imandt said the deal also cuts comp time, and eliminates certain step increases and bonuses.

Court officers have long complained that Long Island is an expensive place to live and they earn far less than cops and correction officers.

Manning said he changed his mind on the contract offer after the attempt to sway the CSEA ended in "complete failure." He is now criticizing efforts by the other unions to influence the Suffolk vote, with ballots due Aug. 21.

"The negotiating committee worked and tried to do the best that it could for the members, and we feel that outside interference is not fair and shouldn't be tolerated," he said.

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