By PHIL NOBILE
After almost a year without a new contract, the Town of Harrison and the Civil Service Employees Association signed an agreement on Oct. 3 adding wage increases and some health benefit alterations for 60 Harrison employees. The term of the contract begins on Jan. 1, 2013, and ends Dec. 31, 2017.
“It’s hard to plan financially and know what the unions will ask for and what you can give them,” Harrison Mayor Ron Belmont, a Republican, said. “We have some future insight now that we can see down the road, especially with a five-year contract.”
CSEA employees in Harrison were working without a new contract for almost a year as the previous agreement expired on Dec. 31, 2012. The Public Employees Fair Employment Act in New York State, more commonly known as the “Taylor law,” allows workers’ contracts to continue in perpetuity based on the previous agreement until a new contract can be arranged.
Three out of the town’s five public labor unions remain without new contracts, including the Teamsters Local 456, the Harrison Fire Department and the CSEA Foremen. The Harrison Police Benevolent Association came to an agreement in July 2012.
The agreement between the town and the CSEA includes 2 percent annual wage increases during the life of the contract as well as retroactive repayments for the past year. The measure effects only the employees’ part of the bargaining unit prior to Dec. 31, 2012. New employee wages will be set in accordance with a new-hire salary grid created by the agreement.
“When you add two steps to the salary grid and you cut the grid 15 percent across the board, it’s going to be significant savings,” Deputy Village Attorney Christopher Cipolla said. “I think it’s good for our end and for town residents when it comes to saving money.”
In comparison, the agreement between the town and the PBA consisted of an initial 2.25 percent wage increase in 2013 and then a quarter of 1 percent for the remainder of the agreement.
“I’m glad it is settled,” Former Harrison mayor, and Belmont’s Democratic opponent in the upcoming election, Joan Walsh said. “It must have been uncomfortable for employees to not know the details of their future.”
Health benefits for employees hired before Jan. 1, 2013, under the new CSEA agreement will remain mostly the same as years prior. According to the new contract, those employees will maintain health benefit plans in effect before the new memorandum with a few changes, such as no buyout option for current employees not already receiving a medical plan buyout and changes to benefits of current employees will need to be approved by a majority vote by current employees. Also, ambulatory facility visits, such as preventive care and various diagnostic procedures, will be covered with existing employees’ benefits.
The biggest changes come to employees hired after Jan. 1, 2013.
They will be required to pay 25 percent of their health benefits for the first 15 years of employment and, due to the “uncertainty of future health care costs,” both the town and the CSEA will negotiate further over the amount employees will pay after the 15-year period. No longer are employees given free healthcare into retirement by the town automatically.
“That’s done away with,” Cipolla said. “These were things from our end as a municipality that we needed to change moving forward. Especially with soaring costs in healthcare.”
New employees are also ineligible for any medical buyouts and are not entitled to Medicare Part B reimbursement, which covers pay for physician services and medical supplies not covered by Medicare Part A, or Part D reimbursement, which subsidizes the cost of prescription drugs.
The new memorandum also has requirements for employees’ prescription drugs. According to the agreement, each employee is required to substitute name brand drugs for generic alternatives unless it is deemed medically necessary. Employees must pay the difference in cost if they opt for the name brand version of their drug. Also, employees must order all of their “maintenance drugs,” or ones used on a continuing basis, via mail in another money saving initiative. The initiatives were described by Cipolla as “mutually beneficial.”
“Generic substitution, mandatory mail order will save us a lot of money,” Cipolla said. “It was mutually beneficial because measures like that save everyone money, it’s something both sides were on board with.”
Along with new additions, one amendment was made to replace a portion of the expired collective bargaining agreement. The amendment entitles any spouse of a deceased employee of the town married to that employee for at least 10 years to continued coverage, as long as the spouse fulfills remaining payment obligations.
When asked for comment, Harrison’s CSEA president Donna Laygues declined.