For the past two months, Southold Civil Service Employees Association President Tom Skabry has come to the podium at every town board meeting begging board members to personally take part in negotiating a new contract with the town’s union workers. But it appears this week that no one from the town board will be at the next negotiating session Dec. 11.
Before crowds of town workers who applaud patiently each time he speaks, Mr. Skabry has repeatedly said that he doesn’t want to see a repeat of an incident that occurred with the town’s outside legal counsel in the last official mediation session in late September.
“There were some certain actions that were clearly not authorized by this town board, nevermind authorized by the town supervisor,” he said of the last negotiating session at the town’s Nov. 19 public meeting.
Though he declined in private to give the details of what happened at that meeting, he said he wanted the town board to be aware of actions that are being taken by their counsel on their behalf.
Town workers have been working under a contract that expired at the end of 2012. The town declared impasse early this summer and the CSEA joined them in impasse soon after, after which the state Public Employment Relations Board began setting up mediation sessions.
The most recent contract ended up being five years long, after CSEA members agreed in late 2009 to extend their three year contract by two years, in exchange for not taking a raise in 2010 and taking 4 percent increases each of the following two years. The CSEA also agreed in 2009 to pay 5 percent of their medical insurance premiums, when they had previously not had to pay for insurance. In exchange, the town promised there would be no layoffs.
Negotiated in the midst of the nationwide financial crisis, Mr. Skabry said this week that “in 2009, the membership did the right thing to work with the town…it was a package that gave the town real, immediate financial savings. We also got layoff protection.”
“It goes to show that when both sides work together and are serious about it, we can work out an agreement,” he said, adding that town board members had played an active role in labor negotiations in the past.
Mr. Skabry said this week that the town is offering workers “virtually non-existent” salary increases and health insurance that requires them to pay 20 percent of the cost of their premiums, “as well as numerous proposals to weaken our contract.”
He said the union has given the town its final offer, which includes “a fair salary package,” some insurance cost-savings and “tightening up some layoff protection for the protection of our workers.”
He declined to go into further detail.
Board members were tight-lipped Tuesday about their stand at the negotiating table. Councilman Bill Ruland read a prepared statement to the union members in the room.
“Town employees are not working without a contract,” he said. “All the terms and conditions of the prior contract remain in effect until a successor agreement is reached.”
Mr. Ruland added that the town board has a right to designate whomever they wish to represent them at the negotiating table, and that the town’s outside legal counsel has kept the town board fully informed on the status of negotiations.
“The current impasse has nothing to do with a lack of involvement by town board members in the process,” he said. “It is solely attributable to the inability of the parties to reach an agreement on the proposed terms of a successor agreement.”
Mr. Skabry thanked Mr. Ruland for his “extensive statement.”
“I can only assume that was done in advance by your special labor counsel,” he said. “That statement is totally inaccurate and I will just leave it at that. It’s in everybody’s interest to have a contract sooner than later.”