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Long IslandSuffolk

Lindenhurst teachers reject fact finder's proposals on pay, step increases

President Donna Hochman, right, with Superintendent Daniel Giordano,

President Donna Hochman, right, with Superintendent Daniel Giordano, second from right, listen to community concerns during a Lindenhurst school board meeting, Wednesday, Sept. 17, 2014. Credit: Danielle Finkelstein

The Lindenhurst teachers union, which has been without a contract since June 2011, has rejected a state-appointed fact finder's proposal for a new contract.

The fact-finder stage is one of the last moves that can be made under state law to resolve impasses between school districts and unions. Greg Guercio, Lindenhurst's labor attorney whose Farmingdale firm represents 40 school districts on Long Island, said it is rare to not reach an agreement after a fact finder's report. "It's a powerful influence on parties that have been at odds over a long time," he said.

In October 2012, the district declared to the state that it had reached an impasse in negotiations with the Teachers Association of Lindenhurst and a state-appointed mediator began to work with the two parties. However, those sessions did not yield results, and last February the district requested a state fact finder intervene.

Fact finder Thomas J. Linden released his report last month, focusing on salary and health insurance contributions, referring other issues "back to the parties for resolution."

Linden proposed a seven-year contract, backdated to 2011, in which the teachers would receive 2 percent annual step increases as per the existing contract through 2015. The union would take a hard freeze in the 2015-2016 school year with no pay or step increases. He proposed no step increases for the following year, but a 1 percent pay increase, and in the final year, 2017-2018, step increases and a 1 percent pay increase. Earlier this month the board of education voted unanimously to accept Linden's proposal.

Union president John Mansfield said they had to reject the report because without addressing other issues such as working conditions, the report is incomplete. "Our proposals and the district's proposals went far beyond wages and benefits," he said.

Under state law, the union's expired contract continues indefinitely, including 2 percent step increases with no pay increases per year, until a new contract is worked out. According to the district, for the current school year step increases will cost $1.2 million.

Amityville and Lawrence school districts are also in their fourth year without a new contract. At least a half dozen other Long Island districts are in their third year without contracts. Among the latter is Babylon, which Guercio said is also entering the fact-finder stage.

Guercio said that since the state imposed a 2 percent tax cap in 2012, the district has struggled to keep up with step increases, which, he said, "devour all of the levy increases if you stay under the cap."

Mansfield said the union is "not blind to the district's position" and understands the constraints of the tax cap. But, he said, "there are different ways to see savings" other than a wage freeze, and the district "left money on the table" this year by offering only a 1.48 tax levy increase. "It's incumbent on the district to go to the cap every year," he said.

Mansfield said the report gives both parties "something to discuss" and that the union hopes to continue negotiations.

The district is holding a workshop on the report on Oct. 15 at 8 p.m. at the high school.

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