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Rockland legislators OK contracts with labor unions

Unionized Rockland County workers protest outside State Sen.

Unionized Rockland County workers protest outside State Sen. David Carlucci's offices in Nanuet, following an announcement by County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef that he will be laying off 150 employees to help bridge a protected $80 million budget hole this fiscal year. (May 17, 2012) Photo Credit: Photo by Christian Wade

Rockland County lawmakers on Wednesday signed off on proposed contracts with three labor unions that will prevent layoffs through 2013 in exchange for a wage and step plan freeze, deferred paydays and other concessions.

The agreements among the county and the Civil Service Employees Association of New York, the Rockland Association of Management and the Doctors' Council will be retroactive to Jan. 1, 2011, and extend to Dec. 31, 2013.

Union officials have agreed to a 15 percent health insurance contribution rate for new employees, plus salary and wage freezes, in exchange for a cap on layoffs through the term of the contract.

The unions also has agreed to 10 days of "deferred payments" for unionized county employees in 2012 and 2013 -- for which they will be paid in December 2014 -- and the county has agreed to continue with longevity pay for those who qualify.

The county Legislature approved all three contracts -- including a pair of resolutions approving pay and benefit cuts similar to the unionized county workers for nonunion supervisors and managers -- by a vote of 14 to 2.

Several legislators expressed reservations about the tentative contracts, suggesting the concessions from the unions don't go far enough in compensating for the county's budget shortfall, estimated at $12 million this fiscal year alone.

Legis. Frank Sparaco, the board's Republican minority leader, pointed out the county budgeted $18 million in anticipated savings from union givebacks in the contract, but the contracts will generate only $4 million in savings this year.

Others legislators agreed.

"I don't feel comfortable voting to approve this without knowing for sure what our budget situation is going to be next year," said Legis. Nancy Low-Hogan (D-South Nyack), one of the two lawmakers to vote against the contracts.

Legis. Joseph Meyers (D-Suffern) said given the county's financial situation he couldn't support a contract that froze layoffs for at least 14 months. "We're limiting our options and pushing us toward a property tax increase," he said.

Legis. Ed Day (R-New City) said he was concerned that the County Executive C. Scott Vanderhoef budgeted far more in concessions this year than he was able to win in concessions, but he added that some savings were better than none.

"The bottom line is that we're not going to solve this fiscal crisis on the backs of our workers," Day said.

Members of the 2,200-strong Rockland CSEA approved the contract last week by a vote of 893 to 238.

Similar concessions were approved by the other two unions. RAM is the county's second-largest union, with 216 members, and the Doctors' Council has 46 members. Both unions approved their contracts before Wednesday night's meeting.

Union officials estimated the concessions will save the county about $8 million a year, with about $4 million in savings for the current fiscal year, which ends Dec. 31. The county has not yet released its cost-savings estimate.

Legislative chairwoman Harriet Cornell she will be taking a voluntary pay deferment similar to the cuts that county employees will be taking under the contract. County legislators make $32,587 a year, and Cornell gets an additional $40,805 for serving as chairwoman. On Wednesday, she urged other county legislators to take a pay cut as well.

Rockland County employees have been working without a contract since 2010, and talks got under way in 2011.

The negotiations were complicated by the county's dire financial situation, which county officials have said resulted from declining property tax collections, increasing pension costs and unfunded state mandates.

The aggregate budget deficit, estimated at $95 million, has forced the county to lay off workers, eliminate vacant positions, cut funding for nonprofit organizations, impose new taxes and fees and shift some costs to the towns.

Vanderhoef said he is negotiating contracts with the county's other labor unions.


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