Contract Reached With Second Court Union; 10 Others Balk

by | Nov 6, 2014 | Press

Article by Ben Bedell  from The New York Law Journal

obj1415234770460tmb320A second union of nonjudicial court employees has accepted the state’s contract offer, the Office of Court Administration announced Wednesday, while other unions continued to hold out for more compensation.

“We are pleased that we just reached a tentative agreement with DC 37, which represents almost 1,300 court employees,” OCA spokeswoman Arlene Hackel said in a statement. “We remain ready to negotiate with any other unions that want to come to the table.”

Terms were not disclosed, and the agreement remains subject to membership ratification.

Meanwhile, 10 New York City-based court employee unions, calling themselves the “Core Issues Alliance,” have pledged to reject the state’s current offer, said Patrick Cullen, president of the 1500-member New York State Supreme Court Officers Association. The unions have mounted a series of demonstrations at court buildings.

“They want zeroes and givebacks,” said Joseph Walsh, president of the 1,500-member New York State Court Clerks Association at a raucous demonstration Wednesday outside OCA headquarters in Manhattan.

The holdout unions say the state’s proposal of 2 percent raises for each of the next three years without retroactive pay gains is unacceptable. Court employees have been working without a contract or any pay increases for three and a half years.

Members of the Civil Service Employees Association, the largest of the unions representing the 14,375 non-judicial employees ratified a contract by a 2-1 majority in June that did not provide for retroactive catch-ups.

The CSEA contract, covering 40 percent of the court workforce, most of them in upstate counties, was described as a “sellout” by Dennis Quirk, whose union represents 1,600 members in the New York State Court Officers Association. “Our members feel no contract is better than a bad contract,” he said.

Walsh said if DC 37’s agreement followed the CSEA pattern, the Core Issues unions would urge DC 37 members to reject it.

“We totally oppose it,” said Billy Imandt, president of the Court Officers Benevolent Association of Nassau County, which has about 800 members. “We want at least the rate of inflation and they’re offering us half that.”

Leaders of the 870-member Suffolk County Court Employees Association had backed a contract offer similar to the CSEA deal, only to have it rejected by a 5-to-1 majority of the membership last September.

Cullen added there were “givebacks” in other areas that would amount to wage cuts averaging 4 percent over the life of the contract.

“They want changes in the way the length-of-service component of the pay system is calculated that will result in pay cuts. And they want to delay scheduled payments already in the contract,” he said.

The Core Issues unions had campaigned among CSEA members to reject the contract proposal, but “our 5,700 members ratified it by the largest margin in history,” CSEA spokesman Stephen Madarasz said. “We made concessions, but so did OCA.”

Neither side disputed that the court system has suffered from declines in its workforce.

“Over the last five years, the non-judicial workforce of the court system has been reduced by more than 1,900 employees,” the Unified Court System said in its budget request a year ago. “Our current staffing is the lowest in more than a decade, despite a significant increase in workload over that time period.”

The Judiciary obtained a 2.5 percent budget increase from the legislature over the prior year for the fiscal year that began April 1, according to Hackel. The unions say some of that increase should go to their members.

“It would be one thing if OCA did not have the money because the budget was cut. But they do,” Imandt said. “Our members want a retroactive raise for the three years when we made sacrifices.”

Under the state’s Taylor Law, which outlaws strikes by public employees, the OCA can declare an “impasse” with respect to any union whose members have voted to reject the state’s final offer. That triggers a lengthy mediation process.