Thursday, September 25, 2008

Westchester Guardian/The Advocate.

Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Advocate
Richard Blassberg

County Workers Finally
Get Their Contract

Last Tuesday, September 16th, at noon, there were more than 500 members of Unit 9200 of the Civil Service Employees Association,
CSEA, representing 4,000 employ-ees of Westchester County, picketing and demonstrating on Martine Avenue, White Plains, in front of
the Edwin Michaelian County Of-fice Building.

They were protesting three years without a contract, the last two of which have seen numerous periodic protests, most at the same site,
but also at the Rye Town Hilton on the occasion of Andy Spano’s birthday fundraiser. Even Nicolas, once “The Little Kid In The
Stroller,” now 2½, showed up on his own two feet. Men and women from every department, Public Works, secretarial pools, the Department of Community Mental Health, the Department of Social Services, and scores of other County agencies, were marching together,
united in their determination to achieve a contract after three years of arrogant, unreasonable treatment from Larry Schwartz, Deputy
County Executive, whose contempt for them had been amply demonstrated.

Chants of What do we want? answered by 500 voices shouting Contract, followed by When do we want it? answered by Now, again 500 strong were heard over and over again. The mood of the crowd seemed more militant, more strike-ready, than we had seen at prior demonstrations. At one point, State Senator Ruth Hassell Thompson grabbed the megaphone and attempted to explain the financial
plight of state and municipal agencies in New York, particularly in light of the previous day’s 500-point Stock Market decline while, at the
same time, reassuring picketers that she was four-square behind them.

We asked the Senator, “Do you suppose, in light of the State’s financial problems, that deputy commissioners and commissioners might
be willing to make give-backs?” The Senator responded, “Since they are asking for give-backs, they should be willing to do the same.”

By Tuesday evening, there was word from Union President Jack McPhillips that the Union and the County had reached a tentative agreement, and were very near a signed contract. Readers will recall that several weeks earlier, when the Union delivered petitions to
the Board of Legislators and the County Executive’s Office, it was clear that the legislators, and Chairman Bill Ryan, were sympathetic to their requests for a contract; one that would provide for a livable wage and health insurance. Ryan, at the time newly emerged from Westchester Medical Center, and cardiac surgery, took the time to speak with McPhillips and a delegation of four other Union officials.

However, on the ninth floor, no one from the County Executive’s Of-fice was prepared to greet, much less speak with, McPhillips and his crew. They were relegated to leaving their petitions, with thousands of signatures, at the desk of the receptionist. The attitude projected by
Larry Schwartz that day was completely consistent with his management style and his imperial approach to the County workforce. He was okay with thousands of County employees working for three years without a contract while, at the same time, he gave $28,000-plus raises to the Commissioners of Elections, bringing their salaries, for part-time positions, to $150,000 each, twice what election commissioners
in Nassau County earn.

Yes, Larry was okay with no contract for rank-and-file County employees for three years, while $13-20 million would be spent to take a rundown shell of an Ardsley building off the hands of a major contributor to Andy Spano’s political campaigns. And, tens of millions of dollars were unnecessarily overspent on solid waste disposal in order to do business with a hauler the City of New York would not deal with. To be sure, there’s more to that fact than meets the eye; and we will report our findings and the implications in the very near future.

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