Shared insurance payments a healthy sign for Westchester employees
By agreeing to pay a percentage of their health care costs, Westchester County correction officers are showing that they understand an important reality: Taxpayers shouldn’t bear the entire burden for public workers while they also pay for their own skyrocketing plans.
Especially not when the county is paying $140 million on health care for all of its workers and struggling to cover core services like bus routes, control spiraling costs of pensions and keep tax increases below the state’s property tax cap.
With 690 members, the Westchester Correction Officers’ Benevolent Association is the county’s second-largest union. So it sends a clear message to the other five unions in contract talks — notably the Civil Service Employees Association, the largest — that health care contributions are a critical piece of negotiations.
County Executive Rob Astorino has pushed for health insurance contributions from union workers since he took office. Nonunion workers, including Astorino, commissioners and some legislators, have been contributing to their own plans since 2010.
The 12.5 percent contribution is no small concession for correction officers — who work in the county jail — when you consider that it could cost them anywhere from roughly $1,000 a year for single coverage and $2,600 for family. But the deal also guarantees raises through 2015 — 3 percent retroactive for each of the past two years and 2.5 percent each year going forward.
And it includes a $100 increase in longevity pay, which translates to about $3,000 to $3,700 extra every year, depending on seniority.
It’s a fair deal and lawmakers should ratify it.
Another aspect of the agreement also escalates health care contributions to 15 percent by 2015 and requires new employees, whose starting salaries would be less, to pay 20 percent. The officers work at the Westchester County jail in Valhalla.
In announcing the deal earlier this week, Astorino and union president Alonzo West described a tough give-and-take between both sides and said that in the end the agreement was fair to union members and taxpayers.
The tentative agreement will go before the Board of Legislators for approval.
This contract comes six weeks after the county executive reached a similar agreement in which Teamsters Local 456, which represents about 120 county managers, will get raises and contribute to health care costs.
Astorino, who has repeatedly uttered his jobs-for-savings mantra, still has his work cut out for him with other negotiations. So do the unions.
But workers paying a percentage of their premiums is a healthy prescription for taxpayers.