Health care is sticking point in sanitation negotiations


Union workers in Oceanside’s Sanitary District 7 have balked at ratifying a contract recommended in July by a fact-finder and their own union officials, rejecting a non-binding recommendation that workers pay a portion of their health care costs.

“We are going to vote sometime prior to the sanitation board’s Oct. 3 meeting, but without the health care cost recommendations,” Daniel Gatto, president of Local 854 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, which represents the workers, said of the fact-finder’s recommendation. “Health care costs must remain status quo, with the district paying the entire cost. There is no way we can get our members to ratify a contract as long as it has the health care cost provision. Our older workers will not accept that in any form.”

Gatto added that the vote of the membership will then be taken back to the sanitation commissioners. “I don’t know if they will accept our vote without the health care provisions,” he said. “I hope they do.”

Board attorney Anthony Iovino was taken aback when contacted by the Herald for comment on Gatto’s statement. “How come I’m hearing this for the first time from you?” Iovino asked. “That is part and parcel of the way the union negotiates. I would have appreciated a head’s-up that they couldn’t accept the health care recommendation.

“I can’t say how the board will react when the union comes to it with a contract proposal that doesn’t include health care payments,” he added. “I can’t imagine that they will just say, ‘Go ahead and pick the parts of the recommendations you like and reject those you do not.’”

Iovino said that should there be a contractual impasse, the board would hold a public hearing, at which both parties would get a chance to tell their sides of the story. The board could then impose a contract for 2011, the first year after the 2010 expiration of the most recent contract.

“Then the parties can start negotiations all over again for the 2012 and subsequent contracts,” Iovino explained.

The 16-page fact-finder’s report, issued by Eugene Ginsberg on July 24, made a series of non-binding recommendations. Among them was that district workers pay a percentage of their health care costs for the first time.

In its submission to the fact-finder, the sanitary board argued that “it appears that Oceanside is virtually unique” in that workers do not pay part of their health care coverage. The district asked that all employees pay 15 percent of their health insurance costs.

The union countered by arguing that workers should continue to receive fully paid benefits from the district.

In his report, Ginsberg wrote, “It is reasonable for the district to propose employee contributions.” He recommended that employees contribute to the plan in steps until Dec. 31, when a new health care payment system would be put in place.

By Dec. 31, 2015, Ginsberg reasoned, workers should be paying a percentage of their health insurance coverage. Those who earn less than $30,000 would pay 2 percent; those earning between $30,000 and $50,000, 5 percent; those earning between $50,000 and $70,093, 10 percent; and those earning more than $70,093, 15 percent. Until then, they would contribute a portion of their raises towards their health care coverage.

That proposal was rejected by the workers. One, who asked to remain anonymous because he fears retribution for speaking out in opposition to the board, said, “We were given a copy of the report, and the majority of workers are 100 percent opposed to it. We are also displeased with Gatto and the union, and we plan to explore our options to get rid of that local.”

He added, “We’re wary of the fact-finder’s report. It’s very one-sided for the district, and I wouldn’t be surprised if district officials didn’t have some sort of influence on what was in the report. We’re not looking to get rich. We just want what’s fair.”

Gatto said that his union is working to get the best deal he can for the workers. When Ginsberg released his report, Gatto said that he told the union workers, “We’re not going to get a better deal anywhere else. I believe that we should take it.”

The new contract will affect drivers, helpers and laborers. The district currently employs 48 union members.

The sanitary district serves 13,000 households and about 950 businesses in Oceanside and small portions of Baldwin and East Rockaway. It has a budget of $8.65 million.