NY: 7 years, and no pay hike

ECOs, rangers frustrated by

contract stalemate

Albany – New York’s environmental conservation officers and forest
rangers are locked in a contract stalemate with the state.

That might not be surprising, given New York’s bleak financial
situation.

What’s remarkable about this negotiations tug-of-war is that ECOs
and forest rangers – as well as state park police and SUNY campus
police – are seeking a contract covering 2005-06.

In fact, the officers haven’t had a pay hike in seven years. And
even when – or if - a 2005-06 contract is in place through the
arbitration process, the state and ECO and forest rangers union
will likely have to immediately return to the bargaining table to
work on another contract in an effort to get an up-to-date working
agreement.

“On a personal level, it’s just very frustrating we’ve gone this
many years without a contract,” said Capt. Woody Erickson,
president of Local 1873S, which represents ECO captains and majors.
“The last raise for any ECO was April 1, 2004. And that’s one of
the most significant aspects of this situation: ECOs (and forest
rangers) haven’t had a raise in seven years.”

The two sides closed in on an agreement earlier this year, but an
arbitrator’s proposal was rejected by both sides.

“That’s a rare occurrence,” Erickson said of the double rejection.
“But the state felt the arbitrator’s recommendation was too high,
and the union though it was too low.”

Sources indicated the proposal called for pay hikes of about 2.5
percent each year.

“It’s frustrating, to say the least,” said ECO Bob Inman, president
of Local 1873, which represents about 240 ECOs and investigators.
“You try to remain optimistic that it will get done, but that
optimism grows dimmer every day, it seems.”

A key element of the contract stalemate is the state’s current
fiscal situation. Grappling with the massive deficit, the state’s
position is that it doesn’t have the cash to dole out any pay
hikes. ECOs and forest rangers, however, maintain that the current
financial abyss shouldn’t be applied to a 2005-06 contract
discussion, and union officials contend during that period the
state actually had a cash surplus of $4-$6 billion.

“That has been the union’s stance through the whole arbitration
process,” Inman said.

The two sides are continuing to work through the arbitration
process, but the rejection of the recent proposal has sent the
talks nearly back to square one.

“Right now there is no offer,” Erickson said.

The two sides were in the process of filing briefs outlining their
positions.

Officers privately express frustration and anger that the state is
essentially holding onto their cash, since any pay raise is
typically retroactive. An arbitrator’s award in 2006 (for a 2003-04
contract) meant thousands of dollars in back pay to the
officers.

Even with a contract, ECOs and forest rangers will likely remain
lower than state police troopers – even though, union officials
note, ECOs require more training and education.

A starting salary for an ECO – during their 26-week training
academy - is just over $42,000 annually. After 30 weeks, that goes
to just overt $44,000, and after one year it tops $46,000.

State troopers receive a starting salary of over $50,000 during
their training, and it climbs toward $61,000 upon graduation and
over $71,000 after one year on the job.

Too, the ECO ranks have been depleted as many officers took
advantage of early retirement incentives. How – and if – those
positions will be filled remains to be seen, since there are no
current plans for a new ECO academy. The state graduated its last
class of ECOs in September of 2008.

Inman said ECOs are continuing to do their jobs daily despite the
lack of a contract.

“They’re professional police officers,” he said. “But sometimes it
appears the state of New York doesn’t care.”

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