Written by Dagmar Fors Karppi Friday, 28 September 2012 00:00
He said, “I’m ready to go forward with what they requested but with a two-year extension and a no layoff clause.” He added that beyond that he is still willing to negotiate. He said, “John Venditto is coming up with a lot of ideas that I won’t even entertain.”
How the Town of Oyster Bay has ended up in debt is difficult to explain. Over the recent economic times, Supervisor John Venditto has stated that Oyster Bay, unlike Nassau County, had a good grasp on its finances. Previously, they didn’t have to lay people off and they could raise taxes as needed because as the supervisor said, the Town of Oyster Bay residents were more interested in their quality of life. Therefore, while other municipalities were in trouble, the town was still giving raises but they were also using up their reserves. This year the town’s financial news changed as their bond rating fell as a result.
Faced with rising debt costs, the town is looking to find money by reducing staff, first by offering a retirement incentive and then by layoffs. Mr. Rauff said as to the incentive offer, 94 workers were considering the retirement offer. Of them the first 89 did so and retired on Aug. 30. Currently two more people accepted the retirement as of Dec. 31: the retirement incentive is age-related: they must have worked for the town for five years and be 55 years of age. All those who were eligible for retirement were identified by the town before the offer was originally made.
CSEA President Rauff said, “The very people that serve the residents are being laid off and that isn’t the way to go.” Mr. Rauff said he has been trying to meet with the supervisor as early as April and May of 2012, and as early as December of last year. “It had nothing to do with the financial picture. We had already signed the contract for six years. They have been in a hole for a long time. When they signed the contact last year they were already in debt.”
The current CSEA Local 881 six-year contract was negotiated from Feb. 2009 to May 2010. In June 2010 the members voted on it and it went into effect on July 1, 2010. Mr. Rauff said, “But we were covered by the Taylor Law so we didn’t lose our benefits during that negotiation time. There was an overwhelming response from our local members. There are over 1,200 CSEA union members and 83 percent voted for the contract.” Mr. Rauff said it was a good contract.
He continued, “I’ve always been very supportive of John Venditto. I’m an optimist and I believe the supervisor will continue to take care of his employees — my members. Although he has threatened layoffs, he has not done so.
“Still, if they get rid of every employee, that will not pay off the situation for five years because of their $754.2 million in bond debt. It’s unfortunate but it’s a nationwide problem – the economy.”
Mr. Rauff said he has been working with the town for 36 years. He started as a part-time laborer in sanitation, picking up garbage as a temp in August 1977. His father worked his way up through the years from 1959 to the rank of deputy commissioner of sanitation in the early 1990s. His two brothers work in recycling and parks. “When I started with the town I made $2.93 an hour,” he said. [As supervisor Venditto has said of the town, they are family, with many family members working for the town.]
“We’ve always stood up for the supervisor. We offered the town over $40 million in savings with a pay lag, if it had taken place in the second pay period in August, as the best direction we could go.”
Mr. Venditto, in his Sept. 13 letter to the town employees said he had suggested a pay lag but Mr. Rauff said it had been a union offer. Mr. Venditto’s letter said, “The Administration’s request was for an immediate payroll lag, no pay increases in either 2013 or 2014, with a return to the contractual increase in 2015 (4 percent pay increase plus a step). The offer also included a no-layoff clause, with no change to your health benefits.”
Mr. Rauff said, “When the union offered the pay lag it was the best direction we could go in. Mr. Venditto said he never agreed to it.”
Mr. Rauff said, “He’s called us a workforce second to none. At his fundraiser last year and at a town board meeting he said before he lays off one of his employees he will resign himself.
“I don’t want to see him resign or any of his workers, my people, lose jobs. It’s very politically oriented. It’s terrible on the members of the union. It is almost union busting.”
Mr. Rauff said the town has been understaffed for years. He said of his members, “They are not crying about it because they are paid well. Some union member town employees do two and three jobs.” That is true for the executive staff as well. The Deputy Supervisor Len Genova is also the town attorney.
The union leader said, in the aftermath of the Sept. 18 storm he had five workers out pulling trees and making the roads safe.
Mr. Rauff said the supervisor’s request of no raises in 2013 or 2014 wasn’t possible since they had already signed an agreement for those years and that the 4 percent raise suggested for 2015 was already in the agreement.
Mr. Rauff went on to say, “We were ready to go forward with the lag and zero raises in 2013 and 2014 and the raise for 2015 but according to union policies we need an extension to the contract. I am not the sole decision maker. We too have to follow the rules. We are in the midst of a contract, now to follow the union rules, we would have to reconstruct a contract. That calls for a two-year extension with an equitable raise of 1 or 2 percent a year. Their chief of staff, at the beginning of negotiations, was positive on the idea of a 2 percent raise then at the next meeting they offered us nothing. We will never make up what we are losing, but with those givebacks we could have saved the town the $40 million.
“A lot of other union representatives think I am being too soft, but I feel the supervisor wants to make it look good in the eyes of residents. The town tax is only 11 cents on a dollar is when he says what talking to residents. I’m a resident and I pay it. it.
“It’s about the debt from things like the forced mortgage tax, loss of sales tax, all those taxes. The money/revenue the town brought in has decreased. For me, I took a vacation once a year, now it is just in days. I cut back.”
He said the town has frozen all overtime. “The town has made moves.” But he said the people who retired have not been replaced and, “Wait until tax collection time; the lines will be out the door. They don’t have people to cover the jobs.”
The town’s financial woes are still mounting, he said. “In February 2013 the town has to pay off borrowing of $13 million to pay the salaries for 2012.”
Mr. Rauff said the union work is overseen by the town attorneys. “We have penalties for not being on time. It’s a tough system but it should be. They are very good jobs, until they fire the first person. Now, they are all walking on eggs.”
Mr. Rauff said, “We built up a good relationship and trust. I don’t know if it is that way any more. It’s sad.”
As we go to press, things are still up in the air, although Mr. Rauff said the supervisor called him over the weekend. He hadn’t gotten back to him as we spoke on Monday morning. The town does have another option. On May 15 they tabled Resolution 471 that would have allowed them to exceed the state budget cap of 2 percent. If they want to, they can put the resolution back on the table at any upcoming meeting and solve their problems with a tax increase. The town board has a lot to think about.