Hempstead Town Supervisor Laura Gillen denounced a proposed measure on Aug. 2 that would extend civil-service worker pay scales to appointed employees, effectively giving them a combined $800,000 raise.
The resolution, put forth by Councilwoman Erin King Sweeney, would amend the five-year contract — signed in 2017 — between the town government and Local CSEA 880, the union representing town employees, to extend salary raise scales intended for workers who passed civil service exams to those appointed by elected officials.
The amended agreement would affect 86 employees, according to Gillen, including her own appointees, and would extend retroactively to 2017.
“Perhaps the Town Council probably thought I would be fine with this, because some of my own staff would personally benefit from this measure, too,” she said. “Well, we’re not accepting anything, and we wouldn’t accept a dime more than what was already budgeted.”
Gillen characterized the resolution as a “giveaway” to politically connected appointees, through a deal made behind her back, but CSEA 880 President Charles Sellitto disagreed, saying that, historically, wage increases for appointed employees are made at the Town Board’s discretion, and that he had requested the amendment be made to ensure cost-of-living wage adjustments for those workers throughout the contract’s duration.
“My goal is to open eyes to the fact that about 5 percent of my members could practically face a wage freeze for five consecutive years without just cause,” Sellitto said, referring to the appointees, whom he also represents in collective bargaining agreements. “Times are tough for government at every level, but we’re not in a deficit and we’re not bankrupt.”
Sellitto added that he was confused over the controversy, and that he had spoken to staff at Gillen’s office on extending civil service pay scales to include appointees. “It’s a nuclear explosion over nothing,” he said. “I was shocked. It’s like I’m getting blasted on issues that are non-issue.”
Gillen said she had exercised her authority as supervisor and removed the resolution from the agenda for the upcoming Town Board meeting scheduled for Tuesday, after the Herald went to press. She noted that the five-member council could reintroduce it through an emergency hand-up measure.
“Town law is clear in that the supervisor is the chief executive and fiscal officer of this town,” she said. “And is the only one who can negotiate an agreement on behalf of the town to be put before the board. Therefore, this agreement doesn’t exist.”
King Sweeney defended the resolution, saying it came out of a conversation with Sellitto in which he had suggested the amendment. “There is no political pressure on me,” she said. “Anyone is welcome to my private phone, private email and any conversations related to this.”
She questioned, however, Gillen’s removal of the resolution from the agenda, characterizing it as “wildly improper.”
Sellitto acknowledged that he was unaware of the legal authority of the supervisor and the town board, but said he hoped that the issue could be addressed in an open manner. “Put [the resolution] in public view for comment from the public and a vote is rendered,” he said. “Isn’t that what government is supposed to do?”
Ensuring that the board votes in a public forum on raises for political appointees, however, is what Gillen said she was seeking to preserve. “Raises should be transparent, on a case-by-case basis and put up for a vote if they are merited and there’s money available . . .,” she said. “This deal would rob taxpayers from holding our elected officials’ feet to the fire every time they want to dole out raises for their close political friends and associates.”