Sullivan County Democrat
O n l i n e  E d i t i o n National Award-winning, Family-run Newspaper
  NEWS ARCHIVES Established 1891 Callicoon, New York  
home  |  archives

Dan Hust | Democrat

Mamakating Highway Department employee and negotiator Richard Dunn talks about the hard work he and his coworkers perform under adverse conditions. Workers are against a 15 percent health insurance contribution the town supervisor is thinking of proposing. Behind Dunn are town councilpeople Bob Justus and Regina Saunders and Town Attorney Richard Stoloff.

Mamakating asks employees to contribute to health coverage

By Dan Hust
WURTSBORO — February 1, 2011 — Mamakating Town Supervisor Harold Baird said on Thursday that he wants all town employees – elected and not – to contribute 15-20 percent toward their town-provided health insurance.
“I think to be financially responsible to taxpayers,” he explained at a rescheduled town board meeting, “we have to make a move like this.”
Employees don’t contribute to their health coverage currently, and Baird fears a 20-30 percent hike in those premiums in the coming year, on top of a 13 percent increase this year.
“We’re just getting buried in health insurance costs,” he lamented.
But at least one other town board member and several highway department employees believe such a move would be illegal.
“What you’re asking me to do is breach the law,” insisted Councilman Teddy Brebbia. “... I cannot conscionably do that.”
While the highway department is not formally unionized, the town has in the past entered into a collective bargaining agreement with highway workers. Those workers appoint three of their own to negotiate a contract with the township.
The contract’s benefits and wage stipulations, said Brebbia, have routinely been extended to the entire township workforce.
While the latest contract expired more than a year ago, Brebbia told his colleagues Thursday that state law says it remains in force until formally terminated or renewed.
“For us to alter that agreement ... would be what is called ‘an illegal employer act’,” Brebbia assessed.
“This year there has been no agreement with the highway department,” Baird disagreed, “so I say there is no contract with the highway department.”
He insisted the town can no longer shoulder the health insurance payments on its own, which start at $693.92 a month per employee with individual coverage.
He proposed having workers pay 15 percent of their premiums. With paychecks being issued every two weeks, that would amount to $48.03 per paycheck for individual coverage and $104.80 for family coverage (pre-tax monies), Baird said.
Town Attorney Richard Stoloff didn’t believe there was a “past practice basis” to consider, saying the New York State Health Insurance Program (NYSHIP) doesn’t have a position on the matter, and Civil Service simply recommended a 90-day notice.
But he did draw a difference between how employees with a contract and those without could be treated.
And Councilman Bob Justus believes the highway workers remain covered under even an expired contract.
Councilman John Moul, however, agreed with Baird that whatever action is taken should be across-the-board.
“There’s no way that we can do just one certain group,” he remarked. “That wouldn’t be fair.”
There was some support for the measure in the audience that night, including Wurtsboro resident Morris Smith, who said he’s been forced to sell some of his property “because I can no longer afford the taxes.”
“Everybody else should make sacrifices – not just the homeowners,” he stated.
He and fellow Wurtsboro resident Marcia Hamill felt the employees should contribute.
“As a state employee for 12 years, I had to contribute as well,” Hamill noted.
“I think the time has come for all employees to start paying towards their health insurance benefits,” agreed another town resident, Rich Morris.
But Richard Dunn, a decade-long highway worker and one of the department’s three contract negotiators, doesn’t think residents always understand the sacrifices he and his coworkers already make.
“I don’t know if people realize we are on call 24 hours a day, seven days a week,” Dunn noted to the audience and board. “... You hear all over that Mamakating has the best roads anywhere. That comes with a price.”
Baird argued that he’s not trying to pick on anyone, but Dunn felt otherwise.
“It just seems like you guys want to hurt your employees,” Dunn told the board. “... I think it’s a shame you guys are doing this to us.”
The board discussed the matter in executive session but did not take any action.

top of page  |  home  |  archives