Bedford Board Allows Community to Debate Contract Agreement for Teamsters Local 456
By RICH MONETTI
Teamsters Local 456 Blue Collar Workers have been without a contract since 2011. The board and the union finally reached an agreement in July, 2014, but a vote was tabled to give the community a chance to review the issue. So for two hours, an in-depth discussion ensued before a split decision emerged.
The agreement has workers receiving an approximate annual increase of 2.5% through the contract’s end in 2017. But the main controversy centered on the approximate 2% base salary contribution to healthcare costs for current workers and a 10-15 percentage of premium payment for new employees.
Thus, the $5.67 average tax burden per home in 2014, and a 90 cent annual price tag afterwards was out of context for Joel Rutenberg of Elm Road. Angered by Blue Collar workers’ past refusal to contribute toward healthcare during the economic downturn, he felt this was rewarding bad behavior.
In turn, he questioned whether white collar workers would continue to voluntarily contribute to costs in the wake of this contract. “I urge you to reconsider and put everybody on equal footing,” said Rutenburg.
Scott Johnstone also voiced opposition. Comparing the average 15-20% healthcare contribution in area towns to Bedford’s 3%, he felt the minuscule annual amount isn’t done justice by likening it to the obligatory serving of caffeine. “We pay the highest taxes in the nation, because we’ve been asked so many times for that extra cup of coffee,” said Johnstone.
Johnstone sees all the asking as ultimately forcing residents to retire elsewhere. Senior Dick Schneider agreed but felt this was not the place to draw the line. “This shouldn’t take away from maintaining vigilance on other aspects of our taxes,” he said.
Even so, Dan Finta of Cliffside Lane reasoned that labor peace takes precedence. Noting the negative affect that lingering contract talks have on bond ratings, Finta reasoned more delays put the town’s financial security in jeopardy.”
On the other hand, Scott Moody of Bedford Village countered that actual costs often do not align with projections. An insurance agent who insures a company of 450 employees and is more familiar with contributions between 25 and 50%, Moody deemed the contributions, “somewhat low,” and offered his services to the town.
John Marshall of Bedford Corners liked the idea, and felt the town should investigate a collaboration. To that, Supervisor Burdick called Director of Personnel, Joan Gallagher, to clarify.
Gallagher explained that the town had previously used Pompco to insure workers, but this left the town lacking if any catastrophic illnesses occurred. “Insuring from a pool of 125 instead of 1.2 million meant greater liability,” said Gallagher.
That aside, she relayed the town broker’s belief that private plans cannot compete with NYSHIP, and while there are carriers who offer very good rates, that typically changes after two years.
This was all secondary to Maryann Delaney of Bedford Village. “I witnessed these men outside my window with a transformer exploding over their heads and trees falling down around them,” said Delaney. “This way the road was clear during Hurricane Sandy in case anyone needed evacuation.”
As for the low contribution rate in comparison to other towns, Delaney countered that worker pay still rates below average, while expressing embarrassment that the negotiation has taken this long. Louis Picani, a Business Agent for Teamsters Local 456, also rushed to the rescue for workers.
Not happy with the cup of coffee analogy or the assertion that the union is selfish, Picani pointed out how Teamsters Local 456 gave back $240,000 in salary to save jobs. “I don’t know if anything like that would ever happen in the private sector,” he said, and then pleaded for ratification.
Regardless, projected deficits detailed on the town website got the attention of one resident, and again, Supervisor Burdick deployed one of the town’s experts. “The deficits are more of a warning sign of what to do. It’s not our plan to run deficits,” said Comptroller Ed Ritter.
Furthermore, Ritter detailed how projections are based on past years, which included the dire state of the economic downturn, and ultimately amounts to a continual process of revaluation.
Finally, the discussion moved up to the Board, where David Gabrielson and Mary Beth Kass expressed support, while Peter Chryssos vacillated on where the consensus seemed to be heading. The demise of the long time Halloween Parade in Katonah focused his concern. Kids in costumes and families, he said, “It symbolized what the town of Bedford was about.”
Unfortunately, the parade ended because legal parameters didn’t allow the town to fund the nonprofit that ran it. Then because of union contracts and constraints, there was no way to make it work. “That really bothered me,” said Chryssos.
The idea encapsulated for the board member how such matters create community deterring roadblocks, and more importantly, bases pay on time served rather than quality service rendered.
Nonetheless, combining his Nay with Board Member Corcoran’s, a 3-2 passage stood.
Supervisor Burdick then thanked everyone for their respectful participation and closed the issue.
Rich Monetti has been a freelance writer since 2003. He lives in Westchester County.