ECOs, forest rangers approve lengthy pact
Albany — Environmental conservation officers and forest rangers have overwhelmingly approved a contract settlement that covers 10 years and includes retroactive salary hikes as well as some health care concessions.
ECOs and forest rangers, as well as state park and SUNY campus police, who are also covered under the agreement, approved the pact late last month by a 965-36 margin.
The deal will mean thousands of dollars in back pay to officers, including many of whom have since retired. ECOs, forest rangers and the park and campus police have been working without a contract since 2005.
The agreement covers 2005 through 2014 and includes pay hikes that generally parallel those given the state’s two largest unions – the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employees Federation – in settlements last year.
Officers will receive no pay hikes in 2011-13 and a 2 percent salary increase in the final year of the contract.
“This overwhelming endorsement puts an end to years of uncertainty, anxiety and frustration for our members and their families,” said Manuel M. Vilar, President of the Police Benevolent Association of New York State, which negotiated the contract for the officers.
The PBA took over contract talks last year after a proposed agreement negotiated by the officers’ parent union at that time, Council 82, was rejected.
“By working together and taking into account the fiscal realities facing our state, we have been able to agree on a contract for these members of law enforcement who work each day to protect New Yorkers,” Governor Andrew Cuomo said in a prepared statement. “This ratified contract recognizes that shared sacrifice is needed.”
Under the agreement, ECOs, forest rangers and other officers will receive back pay checks of thousands of dollars to cover the early years of the contract. Those checks are expected to be delivered in two installments, but both within this calendar year, to lessen the impact on this fiscal year’s budget.
The deal also includes:
• a $1,000 retention bonus – $775 in the third year of the pact and $225 in the fourth year.
• paid furlough of five days in this fiscal year and four days next year.
• an increase in shared health care insurance premiums of 6 percent for both individual and family plans, bringing the share to 16 percent for individuals and 31 percent for families.
• broad layoff protection, although “unanticipated changes” in the state’s fiscal status won’t be covered under that clause.
• random drug testing for officers during their probationary period, as well as “reasonable suspicion” testing.
• a health plan opt-out under which participants would receive $1,000 under the individual plan and $3,000 under the family plan.
DEC officials indicated previously the deal could trigger retirements by officers who were awaiting the contract settlement. Those departures could serious deplete and already understaffed ECO numbers.
While Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s proposed state budget includes a state police training academy, it doesn’t show plans for an ECO training academy to fill those likely vacancies.