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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Labor deal not a slam dunk for all

Daniel C. Levler is president of the Suffolk

Daniel C. Levler is president of the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees. Credit: Angelo Caruso

     Given a chance to ratify the new union contract that will raise base police pay for officers with at least 12 years of service to $155,000 by 2025 and average total earnings for those officers to more than $200,000, Suffolk County Police Benevolent Association members were glad to fall into line. By the time online voting ended at 5 p.m. Monday, 84 percent of the union’s approximately 1,600 members had voted for ratification.
     But the county’s far larger Association of Municipal Employees, with approximately 6,000 members, appears to have a significant contingent that’s balking. And unfortunately for them, the aspect of the new deals that seems to be causing the anger is not subject to ratification by members.
     Several weeks ago, the county and the PBA and AME announced new contracts for the two unions and a new health care agreement for all of the county’s 10 unions. The health care agreement was the most contentious point, as it forces all county employees to contribute to premiums for the first time (the previous deal charged only those hired after 2013). While the contribution is set at 2 percent of salary, the proposal also sets a minimum contribution of $1,500 a year and maximum of $3,750. That maximum is a great deal for cops making $200,000 a year, but the minimum is a huge percentage of pay for AME employees like crossing guards, who earn $13,000.
     However, union employees don’t get a vote on the health care deal. Their voice on that issue is the Suffolk County Organization of Public Employees, a board of leaders from all the county’s unions that already has approved the deal.
     So the AME membership’s unrest is bubbling up in the only place it can, with opponents of President Daniel Levler working to round up “no” votes on the union’s individual labor contract, on which they can vote online until May 31.
     Union officials are worried enough that they have worked up a “FACT VS. FICTION” flyer on the union website to explain why the proposed deal is a good one, and why leaders’ opponents are wrong. It explains that members cannot vote against the health care deal, touts seven years of raises totaling 12 percent, and points out other advantages, like better longevity pay and step increases. It also says individuals are “spreading false and negative information,” and it takes on the accusation that the AME executive board was “bought off by the county” with $150,000 annual salaries.
     It won’t be clear how the AME vote will go until next week. What is clear is that the issues making members the angriest are not up for a vote. -- Lane Filler

Corrections: The contract under consideration by members of the Association of Municipal Employees is being voted on through May 31. A headline on an earlier version of this opinion piece gave an incorrect impression. In addition, Daniel Levler is president of the union. An earlier photo caption gave an incorrect title.