Thursday, February 2nd, 2023
Thursday, February 2nd, 2023

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ECO continue work without a new pact

Albany – DEC’s environmental conservation officers are taking a
1-2 financial punch this year.

Not only has their overtime been limited amid the state’s fiscal
crisis, they’ve also been working without a contract since their
last pact expired March 31, 2005.

And since talks between the state and ECOs broke down about six
months ago, no new pact is on the horizon.

“I guess they’re at an impasse,” said Peter Fanelli, director of
DEC’s Division of Law Enforcement. “Both sides walked away;
negotiations just fell apart.”

The contract talks also affect the state’s approximately 150
forest rangers, as well as university police and state park
police.

“The last negotiated contract carried ECOs through March 31,
2005,” said Howard Cushing, the New York State Conservation Council
representative on the state’s Conservation Fund Advisory Board. “At
this point, technically, there’s been no contract since.”

That’s a concern on several levels. Employee morale is one:
DEC’s environmental conservation officers, who are required to have
at least a bachelor’s degree and can enforce any law in the state,
are generally paid less than other law enforcement officers in New
York. An ECO, for example, earns a base salary of about $64,000
after 15 years of service, while a state trooper, after five years,
gets around $77,000. Pay raises for state troopers also run about
3-4 percent annually.

“And an ECO is six times more likely to be assaulted by a gun or
knife,” Cushing said.

Too, a retroactive pay hike to ECOs and forest rangers would
mean a big one-time hit to the state’s already cash-strapped
Conservation Fund.

A vacancy on the state’s Public Employee Relations Board has
further complicated the situation, since it has left the board with
an insufficient number of members to render a decision on the
various contractual issues.

“The governor has to fill the (public employee relations board)
vacancy first,” said CFAB_Chairman Charles Hancock. “It’s been
hanging out there for a long, long time. It’s got to be dealt with.
It isn’t just affecting the ECOs; the entire ECO structure will
have to be dealt with here.”

Hancock indicated the board was prepared to “take maybe a
stronger position on the issue of compensation for all law
enforcement of environmental conservation.”

The lack of a contract has created some unusual situations
within the ECO structure. Fanelli himself admitted he’s “in the
second year of a pay cut” after being appointed to the director’s
job. An arbitrator ruled that majors were to be placed into the
union; that has yet to be done. As a result, Fanelli was earning
more as an assistant director.

It has also left majors hesitant to seek captain’s positions
because of the lack of a financial incentive.

An ECO is hired as an ECO Trainee 1. They must complete a
26-week residential basic training academy and perform enforcement
work under supervision of a field training officer. The ECO Trainee
1, after successfully completing his or her first year, will
advance to ECO Trainee 2. Upon completion of a second year in the
training program, the Trainee 2 will advance to ECO.

Currently, the hiring rate for ECO Trainee 1 is $40,859. After
completing 30 weeks as an ECO Trainee 1, the salary increases to
$42,876. After an additional 22 weeks and progression to ECO
Trainee 2, the salary increases to $44,933. Upon completion of the
2-year traineeship, the salary is $47,111.

Additional compensation for expanded duty pay, hazardous
material pay, marine/off-road enforcement, clothing allowance and
pre-shift briefings can increase the base salaries an additional
$6,000, according to the DEC_Web site.

Under the tightened overtime limits, ECOs are allowed 10 hours
of overtime per month through the remainder of the fiscal year,
which ends March 31.

Doug Stang, assistant director of the DEC’s Bureau of Fish,
Wildlife and Marine Resources, said some “creative scheduling”
should allow solid ECO coverage during the height of deer season,
typically the busiest time for ECOs.

Some ECOs, however, have contended the new guidelines leave them
hamstrung in their enforcement abilities.

The lack of a contact means ECOs haven’t had a pay raise since a
2006 arbitrator’s award granted them a retroactive pay hike for the
period of April 2003-March 2005. And since overtime has typically
been built into an ECO’s pay, the overtime reduction is another
financial hit officers have faced._

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