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Deer Park schools retiree health care payment plan alarms union

Deer Park High School, 1 Falcon Place, Deer

Deer Park High School, 1 Falcon Place, Deer Park, NY, is shown Tuesday, June 6, 2017. The school district is in a dispute with a civil service employees' union over health care expenses for retirees. Photo Credit: Chuck Fadely

A labor union is crying foul over plans by the Deer Park School District to quadruple the amount unionized custodians and other support staff would have to pay in the future for health care during retirement.

Civil Service Employees Association officials said the increase would be a hardship for the low-wage workers they represent, and criticized the district for allegedly refusing to negotiate the change. District officials defended the potential increase as an effort to minimize budget growth as health care costs rise.

District officials notified the CSEA of the planned increase during contract negotiations last week, union officials said. The change would increase the amount retired union members contribute to their health care costs to 20 percent from 5 percent, said Sergio Diaz, a labor relations specialist representing the union in the talks.

The increase could mean monthly premiums rising to $400 from around $100, which would be difficult for the unionized janitors, food service workers, school nurses and others to afford in retirement, Diaz said. The average salary of the roughly 220 district workers currently in the union is around $25,000, he said, describing the plan as “disrespectful.”

Drew Blanton, a lawyer representing the district in the contract negotiations, said the board of education had not finalized the increase, but is considering it in an effort to ensure budget growth remains under the state tax cap — a goal he called increasingly difficult to meet as “health insurance costs have skyrocketed over the past few decades.”

Blanton noted that the change would only affect union members who retire after July 1, and that they now pay 20 percent of their health care costs while working, as do currently retired district employees. Diaz said the amount employees in nearby school districts contribute to health care costs in retirement ranges from 5 percent to as much as 50 percent.

Another point of contention is what Diaz called the district’s refusal to negotiate the change.

“We feel this is a mandatory subject of negotiation,” he said. “They need to discuss this with the union before implementing it.”

Diaz said that the union would consider smaller or more gradual increases to member health care contributions in retirement.

Larry Mangan, CSEA’s unit president for the district, said he was “confident a solution can be reached.”

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