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Suffolk correction officers union tentatively agrees to 8-year contract

The new contract would freeze starting pay at

The new contract would freeze starting pay at $30,000 for new correction officers. Credit: NEWSDAY / Newsday/Daniel Goodrich

Suffolk's 892-member correction officers union has tentatively agreed to a new eight-year contract, which officials from County Executive Steve Bellone's administration say would cost an estimated $55 million but would slash the expense of hiring new staff and put off payments of retroactive raises.

"This contract gives us savings for our current budget and makes corrections officers more affordable going forward, so we protect taxpayers in the near and long term," Jon Schneider, deputy county executive, said Wednesday.

The contract, covering from 2011 to 2018, provides 14.5 percent in raises -- including pay hikes of 3.25 percent in each of the next three years along with a "no layoff" clause.

But it also calls for no raises for 2011 and 2012 and will defer 2013, 2014, and 2015 increases, totaling 4 percent, as well as several one-time payments that amount to $2,400, until officers retire or until 2020, at the county's discretion.

More importantly, Bellone aides say the pact lowers starting pay for new correction officers to $30,000 a year -- the current starting pay is $34,781 -- and it will freeze starting pay at that level until the end of the contract. It also will impose a 12-year salary schedule with raises every six months, which will eventually make top salary for new correction officers $78,690. Bellone aides project a $10 million savings in hiring through 2018.

However, the contract also will raise the salary of current top-step correction officers with five years on the job to $93,300 in 2018. Those officers now makes $77,676 a year. There are 707 correction officers at the top step.

Schneider said the new eight-year contract compares favorably to the previous three-year corrections contract, which was done by binding arbitration and which cost the county $35 million. Bellone has issued bond notes for five years to finance that contract and taxpayers are continuing to pay that bond off through 2018. Interest costs on those notes are expected to cost $750,000 to $1 million, according to the comptroller's office. Schneider said the new contract will not require any bonding.

Louis Viscusi, elected as new union president earlier this year, declined to comment on the agreement, on which his members are now voting by a mail-in ballot. The voting deadline is Friday. A proposed resolution ratifying the contract was put before the county legislature Tuesday night.

Legis. Kevin McCaffrey (R-Lindenhurst), GOP caucus head, said he could not take a stand until he has time to review the agreement, but noted many provisions appear similar to the police contract, which some GOP officials have criticized.

"Once you negotiated with one law enforcement agency, it's difficult to tell the next group they are not entitled to something similar," McCaffrey said.

The settlement does not include any provision to give correction officials handguns to carry off-duty. Former union president Vito Dagnello, now retired, made that proposal last year so officers, who for the most part do not carry weapons in the jail, could protect themselves and provide extra security to the public.

Bellone aides say there are 120 correction officers now eligible to retire, and another 60 who will be eligible by the time the contract is up in 2018. The county is already planning a new class of officers this year but has not yet determined the size.

Over and above the higher salary schedule, existing correction officers will also get a $700 annual stipend for education, effective Jan. 1, 2014, with no specific requirements, and another $700 stipend as of Jan. 1, 2015, for having their duties expanded, which include homeland security, anti-terrorism and disaster response.

However, like the deferred raises, those stipends will be paid when an officer leaves the department or in 2020, at the county's discretion. Bellone aides estimate the deferred payments will temporarily save the county "several million dollars."

Legis. Rob Trotta (R-Fort Salonga) criticized the deferrals: "They are just kicking the can down the road."

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