Working hard for their money

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Part 2 of a series of articles about the Oceanside Sanitary District #7.

Hempstead town officials say that it costs more to collect garbage in Oceanside than in the remainder of the sanitary districts in the town – nearly five percent more.
Sanitary District 7 in Oceanside, one of two districts in the Town of Hempstead that does not receive sanitation services from the town itself, serves 13,000 households in Oceanside and small portions of Baldwin and East Rockaway. It also serves 950 commercial businesses and has an annual budget of about $8.65 million.
Sanitary Board members are paid $7,500 a year and receive medical benefits. According to Hempstead Town officials, the average Oceanside homeowner pays about $600 in district taxes each year.
Of that $8.65 million budget, a little more than half, $4.6 million goes for salaries and wages, commissioner compensation and various professional services, such as legal and audit fees.
Another $216, 500 goes for equipment and vehicles.
Why does it cost more to collect garbage in Oceanside?
Dan Gatto says that it’s because of the bloated salaries paid to those at the top, those who run the district for the elected five-member board.
“There is a ridiculous salary schedule in Sanitary Distrct 7,” said Gatto, who is the president of Local 854 of the International Brotherhood of Teamsters, the union that represents the district’s workers and who has to negotiate with the board. “The board says it has no money for the workers who actually pick up the garbage, but they have plenty for the people at the top.”
Gatto said that the workers have been without a contract since 2010 and that he cannot get the board to provide a fair contract.
“They have made two offers, both of them unacceptable to the men,” Gatto said. “While the people at the top make a lot of money, the workers at the low end make less than the sanitation workers in other districts in the town – much less.”
The union has had two fact-finding meetings and went to an arbitrator. They are awaiting the arbitrator’s report before going back to the district board for a third try.
“[The board has] a union-busing attitude, and we have no hammer. We can’t strike under the Taylor Law, and we do the best we can to get a fair contract for the workers, but it is impossible to get anywhere with them. I have been with the local for 20 years and have never seen anything like this,” Gatto added.
At the low end, Gatto said, workers earn $23,000 a year, causing many of them to need second jobs to support their families.
“That is below the state’s poverty level,” Gatto pointed out.
At the top end, a worker with more than 20 years at the district can earn about $70,000, he said.
“Our workers got a bad rap after Sandy,” Gatto said. “You can’t put furniture in garbage truck, and everybody’s life possessions was piled at the curb after the storm. It was like trying to put a band-aid on a gunshot wound. We worked all sorts of overtime and the men were promised a new contract, a good contract, if they went out and worked the overtime that was necessary to get things done. They came in a 4 in the morning and went home late even though their homes and families were devastated as well. The promise was never kept. The men got promises of more hours rather than raises.”
“We were just strung along,” he concluded.
Insiders, who asked not to be identified because they fear retribution, say that air conditioners were removed from the trucks to save money, but that foremen and other supervisors get new air-conditioned SUVs. In addition, they say, the men get no lunch break nor any other breaks during the work day and often have to work in 100-degree heat.
According to Gatto, there are nine foreman for 47 workers, a ratio higher than that even of the New York City Sanitation Department. Those foreman, insiders say, earn upwards of $100,000 a year.
And, while the district provided a two-page budget to the Herald without enumerating individual salaries or expenses, a town audit three years ago revealed that Charles Scarlata, the district supervisor was earning more than $200.000 a year at that time. In addition, according to that audit, Scarlata was due a deferred compensation package of $25,000 a year for 15 years after he leaves the district.
At the time, the audit said, Scarlata was one of the most highly-compensated public officials on Long Island.
District officials have declined to make public his current salary, stating that it is a “personnel matter,” and therefore not mandatory to make public.
District officials did not return call for comment on the union’s contentions.
Workers, however, did notice a change since the first article in this series was published two weeks ago.
` “Just to let you know, just one day after your article came out, Mike Scarlata was outside in the 100 degree heat greeting the workers as they got back from their routes,” said one correspondent who works for the district, but requested anonymity. “That’s a first. He tried to play it all buddy-buddy with the guys, but they weren’t buying it. Better he should answer the questions about our contract.”