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Suffolk correction officers to seek binding arbitration for new contract

The Suffolk correction officers union, after 42 months without a contract, will seek binding arbitration for a new agreement, saying delays by the county on a deal have cost $9 million in potential savings.

The 800-member union, which staffs the county jails in Riverhead and Yaphank, informed the county of its decision in a letter dated June 16.

"Since the county does not appear to be interested in realizing millions of dollars in savings, it is our opinion that they have no serious intention of reaching a contract through the negotiation process," wrote union president Vito Dagnello. "As a result, we are forced to take the matter to an arbitrator."

Justin Meyer, spokesman for Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, said the county wants to continue negotiations but the union's savings proposals are part of a larger package that would be more costly to the county. "We will not agree to anything that we think is larger than we would get in binding arbitration," Meyer said.

The correction officers, the county's second-largest law enforcement union, have been without a contract since Jan. 1, 2011. The county is paying back more than $35.6 million in bonds over five years for a 2012 arbitration award that covered the contract years from 2008 through 2010.

The correction officers have the longest unsettled contract, but Bellone aides said agreements also have expired with county probation officers, police detectives, district attorney detective investigators and white- and blue-collar unions at Suffolk County Community College. Meyer said Suffolk has budgeted funds to settle unresolved contracts.

Legislative Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) criticized Bellone for taking so long to come to agreements.

"Nero's fiddling, while Rome burns and new recruits are coming through without taxpayers getting needed savings," he said. "This is the antithesis of governing."

Dagnello in his letter said the union has made contract offers that would provide "significant economic savings" based on concessions for newly hired officers, but provided no details.

Dagnello said that while negotiations were underway, two classes of recruits went through the county academy and the county lost $9 million in savings that could have been achieved. He said another class is supposed to begin Monday, which could mean an "additional $3 million in lost savings."

Also last week, the State Legislature approved bills to give Suffolk permission to move 36 parks police officers into the county police department. When the shift occurs, park security would be provided by less costly seasonal security personnel.

The Bellone administration had expected the change to take place May 1 and estimated $10 million in savings over five years. Bellone aides say it still could take a month or more for Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to sign the measure, and they now expect the park police to remain in parks for this summer.

County budget director Connie Corso estimated that the delay may cost the county about $500,000, mainly in added police overtime.

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