December 19, 2007
Protest Targets Supe "McGreedy"
It was hardly traditional holiday decor. Instead of a snowman or Santa or the classic grazing reindeer, the grass in front of East Hampton Town Supervisor Bill McGintee's office in Town Hall hosted a giant rat, brought to the scene by irate town workers.
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As The Independent went to press yesterday, members of the East Hampton Town Civil Service Employees Association gathered outside Town Hall to protest an abrupt change in insurance benefits allegedly engineered in secret by McGintee. The demonstration was preceded by a flyer from the Long Island Region CSEA president Nick La Morte that called upon members to protest. "It's a hard pill to swallow in East Hampton," the flyer proclaims in large type.
"All Participants of Island Group Medical Plan – BEWARE," a letter from local CSEA president JJ Kremm, also distributed in advance of the protest, begins. In the missive, Kremm reminds that he and the union's negotiating team brokered a contract that runs from January 2006 through December 2010. During negotiations, Kremm's letter states, the town wanted to change medical coverage, and have employees contribute to premiums. Union negotiators gave up salary increases in order to keep the medical benefits the same as they are now. It was agreed that medical "would not be touched until 2010," Kremm states.
"Now in the first lap of a new term as supervisor for William McGintee, he is attempting to change our medical plan. His interpretation of article 5 section 2A [of the union contract] is that the town is allowed to change coverage in order to save the town money even if it means less coverage for the employees, and to do it without consulting with the CSEA. This is wrong and against the contract."
The letter continues "I am totally taken off guard by these actions. We all negotiated the contract in good faith. We must not give up anything. We must stand together. We will make sure that cutting back on the budget will not [be] done by punishing all of the town's employees."
Kremm was not the only one taken off guard by the change. Tempers flared last week when members of the town board complained the move was made without their knowledge. Two documents, both of which town board members disavowed knowledge of, fueled the furor. The first is a memo sent out to all employees at the beginning of this month.
Headlined "Health Insurance Benefit & Carrier Change Notice," the memo states "Effective January 1, 2008, The Town of East Hampton health insurance carrier will be changing from Island Group Administration to The Empire Plan." The memo goes on to list times for "open enrollment" meetings that were slated to be held on Monday. Board members emphatically maintained the move was made without their approval. "None of us heard of this till we got this notice," Councilman Brad Loewen declared.
That's not all they didn't know about. On October 5 McGintee sponsored a resolution that states the town "elects to participate in the New York State Health Insurance Program." Board members passed the resolution without question, and without the realization that it appeared to change providers from Island Group to the Empire Plan. The resolution makes no mention of either entity. "It got by us," Councilwoman Deb Foster said this week.
With the membership "in an uproar" according to labor relations specialist Rachel Langert and Kremm stating he felt "misled," McGintee appeared to backpedal. He said the open enrollment notice was merely informational and that representatives from Empire required a resolution before they'd speak to the town about a possible switch.
"That's not true," the town's insurance advisor Scott Bradley said. The state never refused to come down to talk to the town board, he said.
The language of the resolution and the memo imply the switch is a done deal. Faced with the ire of his town board colleagues, McGintee insisted neither was an indication that he'd made the switch without consulting them. Councilman Pete Hammerle said both the resolution and the memo "could have been better worded."
Councilwoman Pat Mansir didn't care whether the resolution was binding or not. She pushed for its repeal and urged board members to vote to do so. They did, with the supervisor casting the sole "no" vote.
The town board and the CSEA weren't the only ones left out of the loop. In an interview with The Independent last week, Alan Kaplan from Island Group Administration said news of the switch "took me completely by surprise." Island Group has been the town's employee insurance provider since 1988. In fact, Island Group leased an office in East Hampton for the express purpose of making interaction with CSEA clients convenient.
Defending the measure, McGintee repeatedly referenced savings of up to $3 million during the first two years of the switch. Kaplan said he'd approached town officials earlier this year with a plan similar to Empire that would garner $2.5 million in savings the first year. But, like Empire, the plan would call for higher co-pays than employees currently enjoy. The town expressed no interest in making the change, Kaplan said.
As the discussion wore on, board members wanted to know 'why the rush?' McGintee maintained the town's loss prevention policy through Island Group was due to expire. He later said the company would work a deal for coverage on a month-by-month basis, but emphasized that every month the town refrains from making the switch would cost extra money.
That didn't matter to Hammerle. He wanted to be certain the union and his colleagues on the board were fully apprised of the differences in coverage before any decision was made. McGintee offered to have insurance reps meet with the town board members individually to explain coverage variables. They refused the offer, asking for the discussion to be held in public session. The request was made several times before the supervisor acquiesced. The discussion was supposed to take place yesterday during the town board's work session.
On Monday, Mansir couldn't say what time the discussion would occur. "We have all these 'I don't knows' and a big rat," she offered. Noting that the majority of the board was sympathetic to the union, the councilwoman felt a dramatic demonstration replete with an in-your-face rodent might be counterproductive. Still, she said, "I'm on their side rat or no rat."
This isn't the first time Mansir's witnessed an employee demonstration at Town Hall. Nor is it the first time she's sided against the supervisor. During the late '90s, both Mansir and Hammerle earned the ire of then supervisor Cathy Lester when they passed a resolution giving five percent raises to the workers.