Riverhead CSEA members rally outside the office where union contract negotiations took place Jan. 23. Photo: Alek Lewis

Riverhead Town and its largest employee union have signed off on a three-year labor contract.

The Town Board last night approved a collective bargaining agreement with the Civil Service Employees Association covering 2023-2025.

The agreement was not available at the meeting, but Council Member Tim Hubbard after the meeting ended the agreement provides a total wage increase of 12.75% over the three-year period: 5% in 2023, 2% in 2024 and 2% in 2025. All employees covered by the contract will also receive a $1,500 supplemental payment, he said. The payment, effectively raising the pay scale on the union’s 19-step wage schedule, will be added to employees’ base salaries after the 5% increase in year one. Employees will also receive the annual 1.25% step increase pursuant to the collective bargaining agreement’s salary schedule.

The year-one increase will be retroactive to Jan. 1.

“We think it’s a good contract. We know that our Civil Service employees work very hard for the Town of Riverhead,” Hubbard said before voting in favor of a resolution approving a memorandum of agreement with the union.

“They are also the lowest paid people in the contract for the Town of Riverhead,” he continued. “We’ve worked hard with this contract to try to bring them up to par a little bit. As I told them all, we can’t do it all in one contract but this was an awful good start to get them back up to having wages that they can afford to live on Long Island and in the Town of Riverhead,” Hubbard said.

Money to fund the wage increase was built into the current year’s adopted budget, Hubbard said after the meeting.

“We pierced the tax cap this year in order to do this,” Council Member Ken Rothwell said in an interview after last night’s meeting.

The town’s adopted 2023 operating budget pierced the state-mandated 2% property tax levy limitation by 4.51%. Rothwell voted against the budget in November, stating that it was not adequately discussed in open work sessions. He specifically objected to what he called “top-heavy” funding that favored the town’s higher-paid employees, since the budget would cover 6% across-the-board increases for all employees .

“I just think that our lower tiers need to be caught up so people can make a decent living in the Town of Riverhead and I hope that’s negotiated better the CSEA contract,” Rothwell said before the Nov. 15 budget vote.

“We believe the contract is fair to the employees and fair to the taxpayers,” Hubbard said last night.

The CSEA’s most recent agreement with the town, which covered 2019 through 2022, provided salary increases of 1.25%, 1% and .25%. The union’s contract before that, covering 2015 through 2018, provided a cumulative increase of 1.875% over four years.

Post-COVID inflation has hit the workers hard in both real wage erosion and increasing costs — including rising health insurance premiums, Hubbard said. The town’s health insurance premium rose 11% last year, Hubbard said, and CSEA workers pay 25% of the cost.

The town has had growing difficulty attracting and retaining its municipal work force because its salary scale is not competitive, Hubbard said.

The board unanimously passed a resolution approving the memorandum of agreement with the CSEA in a 4-0 vote, with Supervisor Yvette Aguiar absent. (The supervisor was at a community meeting in Manorville arranged by the Suffolk County Water Authority to discuss public water extensions to serve Manorville homes with private wells.)

CSEA Unit President Terri DeFilippis said she is pleased with the settlement, which unit members ratified in a vote Monday.

“We put in a lot of time and effort to negotiate a fair contract for both sides,” DeFilippis said last night.

The town understood that the employees needed wage increases due to the rising cost of living, DeFilippis said.

“Both sides came to a fair and mutually beneficial contract,” she said. “I’d like to thank the negotiating team of the CSEA and we are very proud to have negotiated the best contract we have had in many years.” There were no give-backs, she said..

DeFilippis also thanked town officials “for their dedication and hard work in finalizing this contract as well.”

Negotiations between the town and its two police unions remain ongoing. The police contracts, like the CSEA’s, expired Dec. 31.

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Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.