Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy addresses the crowd at the...

Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy addresses the crowd at the First Baptist Church of Riverhead's 26th annual Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Breakfast at the Hyatt Regency Wind Watch Hotel in Hauppauge Monday. (Jan. 17, 2011) Credit: James Carbone

Looking to put pressure on the county's 11,000 union workers, Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy said he will propose legislation next week to end all management step increases and force newly hired managers to pay 10 percent of their health insurance.

The county executive said he intends to seek similar concessions from union employees. "Step increases and health benefits have to be on the table," he said. "In the private sector, employees may have to contribute up to 50 percent for their health care program ... in the county it's zero."

Current county employees do not pay a share of their health insurance.

Levy and his aides couldn't say how much the county would save from the proposed cutbacks. But based on last year's turnover, Levy aides said that about 60 to 70 of the 428 non-union jobs may have to pay a share of their insurance cost next year. They also said 278 managers would be affected by the elimination of the nine-step salary ladder for experience because 150 are already at the top step. Each management steps range from 4 to 4.5 percent, Levy officials said.

Dubbed by Levy, the "Taxpayer Protection Act," he said he will also seek as part of his state agenda Albany legislation to bar overtime from being calculated into pensions and limit arbitration awards to 2 percent a year - like New Jersey just enacted. "In other years it would be pie in the sky crazy, but New Jersey just did it," said Levy.

But Levy is looking to use management initiative as leverage in union contract negotiations to cut back on the number and percentage of step increases and force union members to pay a share of health costs. County negotiators have already raised the issue in bargaining talks, officials said.

Presiding Officer William Lindsay (D-Holbrook) said Levy's initiatives on their own will save little. "Unless there is an agreement with the bargaining units, the non-union employees won't make that much of a difference," Lindsay said.

Jeff Frayler, president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, said, "It's a shame he doesn't look for some serious dialogue to work out something reasonable."

Levy's prospects for getting any speedy concessions on health insurance is unlikely because his agreement with all nine county unions runs through 2011 and keeps the terms in place during negotiations in 2012.

Cheryl Felice, president of the 7,000-member Association of Municipal Employees, which has been without a contract for a year, said the union is "not in a position to agree to any contract concessions" since members have already provided the county $13 million through a lag payroll. Felice said, "Mr. Levy knows what his managers are worth."

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