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Suffolk, unions reach deal on health care

Bellone office: All employees will contribute to medical costs, saving taxpayers $40 million annually.

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on March 24,

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone on March 24, 2019. Photo Credit: Jeff Bachner

All Suffolk County workers will for the first time share in health insurance costs in a deal County Executive Steve Bellone reached Wednesday as part of a tentative labor trifecta that included a pact with all 10 bargaining units and new contracts with two of the county's largest unions.

The Suffolk PBA agreed to a new six-year deal, which Bellone aides said will increase wages an average of 1.85 percent per year. Officials say that under the deal, officers at the top step will earn $155,000 a year, up from the current $139,000. The Association of Municipal Employees will get an eight-year contract dating back to 2017, which will provide an average raise of 1.5 percent per year or 12 percent through 2024. 

But the largest agreement, which Bellone aides say will save taxpayers $40 million annually, will require all county workers to pay 2 percent of their salary in the coming year for health coverage, a contribution that will increase by .1 percent each year until it reaches 2.5 percent. However, the annual minimum contribution will be $1,500 and the maximum will be $3,750, increasing to a $4,000 cap by the end of the five-year extension.

Bellone, a Democrat, told legislative leaders that he'll seek immediate ratification of the pacts Tuesday, although at least one GOP lawmaker objected to rushing the review of the complicated contracts. The unions involved must also approve the contracts. It was uncertain Wednesday night when those votes would take place. 

The new health agreement also boosts deductibles for those who use non-network doctors, and introduces new requirements like a $100 copay for using emergency room services. In the past there had been none.

Bellone aides couldn't immediately estimate the total price tag of the package, but executive budget aides and analysts from the county legislature were meeting Wednesday night to begin going over details of the agreements. 

Deputy County Executive Jon Kaiman said the deals will have “a significant positive impact on our budget for years to come” by “changing the trajectory of costs to the county downward, that in the long run,… will bring structural change.”

Noel DiGerolamo, president of the 1,700-member Suffolk PBA, in a press relase called the settlement "fair and equitable," providing "sustainable health insurance for all county employees while recognizing the fiscal realities."

Dan Levler, president of the 6,000-member AME, said the new deal, already backed by the union board, gives them the first long-term contract in union history. He said he believes the union was “able to influence the decisions" on health care in a way that are “least impactful to our members.” He also said he hopes members will see the new deal “as fair and a new beginning,” and that those who are close to retirement  “will not feel pressure to immediately run out the door.”

Republican Comptroller John Kennedy, who is running against Bellone in November, said he will withhold specific comment until he can review details of the contracts. But he added, “We’re so broke you have to look up to see down. Anyone who can portray this as an improvement to Suffolk finances can’t add.”

Bellone aides maintain that the new police contract keeps the 12-step system for new officers intact, but will increase the top-step pay for all officers to the same level. Kaiman said a two-tier system of steps would likely not have survived if the dispute had gone to arbitration.

They also say the new agreement will increase the total number of days the force works by nearly 8,000 per year, which will help bring down overtime costs. For example, an officer’s annual day at the firearms range will be on the officer's own time rather than on overtime. They also said the 100 newly hired officers will work 14.5 extra days on the 232-day work chart in the first year and an extra 17 days in the second year. The number of sick days for new officers will be cut from 26 to 13.

The PBA, however, will get a $225-per-member increase in county benefit fund contribution for each member, and an increase of $350 in uniform allowance and $400 in cleaning allowance. 

Presiding Officer DuWayne Gregory (D-Copiague) said he has not had time to review the agreements  but “from what’ve heard so far, it seems to be a good deal for the taxpayer.” Gregory said Bellone told him he intends to seek immediate passage of the contracts Tuesday with an emergency resolution. 

Republican Legis. Robert Trotta said he would oppose any effort to rush passage of the deals. “I’d never support a Certificate of Necessity on this. The devil is in the details; something like this has to be fully analyzed,” he said.

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