Fair and just pay

By LIAM MAYO
Posted 4/26/22

MONTICELLO, NY — The April 21 full board meeting of the Sullivan County Legislature opened with communications director Dan Hust reading off a statement against hate, a statement on behalf of …

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Fair and just pay

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MONTICELLO, NY — The April 21 full board meeting of the Sullivan County Legislature opened with communications director Dan Hust reading off a statement against hate, a statement on behalf of the legislature in conjunction with the Committee for Equity and Justice, part of Sullivan Allies Leading Together.

Recognizing record-high levels of prejudice-inspired violence in the nation, the statement maintained that “all people of our community have the right to feel safe and be treated equally.”

Less than a minute later, the atmosphere of respect and dignity dissipated, as representatives from the Teamsters began to discuss their collective bargaining agreements with the county.

“I’m here today to ask the legislature for a fair and just pay raise for our members,” said Tom O’Connell, business representative for the Teamsters and the Sullivan County representative for the union.

Teamsters members had been working for the county for over two years without a current contract. As negotiations had progressed, the county had placed two offers on the table, both of them six-year contracts.

The first offer included a two percent annual raise over the six years of the contract, with an additional five percent raise over its final three years for the approximately 70 percent of members who had not received that raise under the previous contract, said O’Connell.

The second offer was centered around members agreeing to give up their Empire health-care plan.

As soon as O’Connell mentioned the second plan, county attorney Mike McGuire cut him off. Discussing details of collective bargaining negotiations publicly was highly improper, he said, and while O’Connell could say what he wanted, legislators should not engage.

“I understand your point,” said O’Connell. “But we’re going on.”

The Teamsters’ negotiating committee had agreed that the second offer was a lesser one, he said, and was not interested in negotiating it. The other offer was itself insufficient. Low wages in the county were leading to staffing issues, including at the Care Center at Sunset Lake, and were leading members to join the Great Resignation.

Speaking after O’Connell, several Teamsters members spoke of their long service to the county and their inability to exist on the county’s current wages.

One member pointed out how the county appeared to be thriving financially, except when it came to negotiations with the Teamsters. She implored the county to offer a fair wage increase to its employees without threatening their health care.

Another speaker discussed raises as a matter of basic survival in the community she lived in her whole life. Young people are running away from the county, she said; her own son didn’t see a way to stay and survive.

“Please, look at what you’re doing to your workforce,” she said.

Earlier in the day, legislators had approved a plan to keep young people in the county, one that focused on educational support rather than employment.

The legislature voted to establish the Sullivan Promise Tuition-free Scholarship Program to be used at SUNY Sullivan, budgeting $300,000 annually; $181,147 of that funding came from the county’s remaining American Rescue Plan Act monies.

Jay Quaintance, president of SUNY Sullivan, spoke in favor of the program at the meeting. The attainment of a college degree had a thoroughly positive impact on an individual’s life, he said, and by offering a scholarship program, the legislature could ensure that the county’s youth sought that attainment at SUNY Sullivan, rather than leaving for colleges elsewhere.

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