The County Strikes Back

Date:

On Thursday, November 2nd, Damon K. Jones, Publisher of Black Westchester, and the New York representative of Blacks in Law Enforcement of America (BLEA), expressed his concerns publicly regarding a recent proposal made by Westchester County to the Westchester Corrections Officers Benevolent Association (COBA), as stated by COBA’s President, Neil Pellone. There are claims of misinformation in the article and both sides telling a different story, here are the facts as my investigation uncovered.

According to Pellone, the County had approached COBA with a contract settlement plan, acknowledging the collective efforts of COBA members on social media and with the support of local legislators. The proposed contract would cover the years 2020 and 2021.

The November 1st letter to the COBA members stated:

Due to our collective efforts, on social media, and with the support of our legislators, the County has approached us with a plan for settling the contract. It is our understanding that the County will offer a two year contract for 2020 and 2021, which in effect, if ratified, would secure a total 6 percent (3% per year) raise. (see full letter below)

BW Publisher Damon K. Jones, who recently retired after 33 years as a Westchester County Correction Officer and is owed money, was upset by this revelation. He backed correction officers in his article. He wondered why the County only offered a two-year contract after COs were four years without a contract.

Later that day, Deputy County Executive (DCE) Ken Jenkins reached out to Damon to inquire about the source of his information. Damon explained that he had obtained the information from a letter sent by COBA to its members, which stated that the County had offered a two-year deal with a 3 percent increase. DCE Jenkins, however, vehemently denied that the County had made such an offer and claimed that COBA had proposed the two-year deal. Damon requested written confirmation from the County, as COBA had put its statement in writing.

Subsequently, the County issued the following statement in response via text:

Clarification of record regarding settlement offers made to Westchester Correction Officers Benevolent Association (COBA) and Westchester Superior Officers Association (SOA)

Westchester County offered a 4-year rollover agreement of 3%, 2%, 2%, 3% with the provision to allow movement in the years, and the County stated the retroactive paychecks would be received by the end of the year – in time for the holiday season if there was signed agreement with the COBA/SOA negotiating team by November 1. Both COBA and SOA rejected that offer.  

The County subsequently offered to settle 2020 for 3% while maintaining the offer for a four-year rollover at the abovementioned terms. COBA/SOA counter-offered a two-year agreement for 2020 and 2021 at 3%.   

The County accepted that proposal and sent the Memorandum of Understanding through our respective attorneys for consideration.

The average CO will get a retro of around $30k, Sgts – $44k, and Captains $49k; how is that an unfair contract? 

When interviewing Pellone he started off by explaining it was about fighting for, and adjusting what they are paying into medical because “We paid the highest amount than anyone in Westchester County.”

DCE Jenkins also vehemently denied COBA’s claim verbally in person when he and CE Latimer saw me at the MV NAACP Gala, on Thursday, November 2nd. In addition to being the Editor-In-Chief, I serve as the Vice President of the Mount Vernon branch of the NAACP. I immediately reached out to Pallone for clarification on the matter.

Pellone said the county wanted them “to pattern bargain after County PD, which was 3,2,2,3 [percent]; that was the four-year deal they offered. They wouldn’t go any higher than the 10% over four years. I countered with four 3.5%s; give us 14%, and we will take the four-year deal. Where I’m confused is Damon’s running around saying I could of gotten a four-year 14 or 12% raise, and I turned it down. [I clarified Damon is only talking about the 4-year 10% deal], and the committee turned that down and I brought that up in my general membership meeting, and the membership turned it down. Nobody was interested in that. [When I informed him that CE Latimer and DCE Jenkins said he countered with a two-year deal with 2 3’s, he responded] I wanted something with three; it was either the two 3’s or four 3’s, so I took the two 3’s back to the membership. [When asked to clarify that the membership turned down the deal, he responded] I never put it to vote; neither one ever went to vote. I took it back to the contract committee, and they turned it down, so it never made it to the membership. When we had a general membership meeting and I discussed it with them and also sent out an email blast, nobody was interested in that.”

I asked him about turning down a four-year contract for a two-year contract; that part doesn’t make sense to me.

“Two three’s is six percent right; as supposed to 2.5% your getting 3%, the game is to try to get the most percentage right. Ten percent over four years is 2.5% per year; that’s less than three, right? Looking long-term, if we took the two years, it could have put some money in people’s pockets, and we would still be at the table trying to get medical fixed, and it also leaves us the option of arbitration moving forward. Since a four-year deal at 15% didn’t fly, because we want to be in these four years trying to fix medical, include these four years, and moving forward,” Pellone responded.

I asked Pellone if he shared the amount of the retro payout they would receive before the Christmas holiday with his membership, and Pellone responded. “They know that retro is involved.”

I asked, if the membership knew the amounts they would get and that they could have recieved it before Christmas. He responded, “They don’t know the amounts, but they can figure it out.” I informed Pellone that once they read this and see the county’s statement, they will know because DCE Jenkins breaks it down in his statement.

From a strategic perspective, if COBA is unwilling to make concessions, one potential course of action could involve using retroactive funds to adjust healthcare benefits. However, it’s essential to recognize that such a move might face resistance from COBA’s membership. In cases where this approach isn’t viable, COBA should explore alternative methods to enhance its bargaining position.

It’s worth noting that, as per the county’s information, COBA had previously negotiated the healthcare agreement when former COBA president Alonzo West was in charge. Current President Pellone, was also involved in those negotiations. Attempting to renegotiate a deal that COBA had already negotiated is generally viewed as counterproductive, particularly when it would impose significant costs on the county without COBA offering any corresponding concessions.

Discussions with county officials have revealed that individuals who chose this profession were well aware of the financial contributions required for health insurance. Consequently, advocating for changes in a situation that people entered into with full awareness may not yield favorable results. The civil service system operates on different tiers, each offering varying benefits, and this is an established part of the system. Therefore, embarking on a campaign to amend an agreement previously negotiated may appear to be an impractical endeavor.

Additionally, if COBA opts to take this matter to arbitration, it’s important to recognize that the County is likely to emerge as the victor, and the process could potentially be drawn out indefinitely. In such a scenario, the ones who would ultimately bear the brunt of this extended dispute are the correction officers themselves, who could face prolonged uncertainty and potential setbacks in their contracts.

I’ve spoken to COBA President Pellone, I talked to CE Latimer and DCE Jenkins and my sources tell me the correction officers are also firm in their positions. While I do not personally have a horse in this race, in this scenario, I would accept the contract and get the retro check by the holidays. COs signed up for the job knowing the salary and the financial contributions required for health insurance, which can be fought another day, but get that retro check while it’s on the table.

The county is not going to offer the COs more than the 10% they offered County Police. It may be time to take emotions out of the equation, and Pellone has to break down the situation to his membership for real, so there are no unrealistic expectations. There are law enforcement agencies that would be happy for the 10% increase over four years, like the Mount Vernon Police Department, which was offered 0% for those same years in the first offer. Mount Vernon PBA President Nicholas Mastrogiogio, “This would have been better than the first 4-year offer she [Mount Vernon Mayor Shawyn Patterson-Howard] offered for sure.”

Either the COBA membership accepts the contract and get that retro check (which they could have had for the holiday if the contract was signed by November 1st), or they fight for healthcare (which, they knew the financial contributions required for health insurance when they signed up for the job) but they are not going to get both. Pellone has to be real with his membership, or they won’t get a contract and the retro check any time soon. This will go to arbitration and get the same 10%, but it will be prolonged.

[Editor’s Note: UPDATED, Monday, November 6, 2023]

After publishing this article, it came to my attention that Pellone sent the membership statement earlier on November 6th (which you can read below), fully aware of when my article would be published. Unfortunately, his letter doesn’t alter the information in the article, nor does it change the fact that he should have been more transparent with the members regarding retroactive pay. It’s worth noting that in this November 6th letter, Pellone still chose to omit the discussion about retroactive pay to his members.

What’s even more troubling is his continued insistence that the county offered a two-year deal, despite his admitting this to this writer in the interview he countered with a two year deal, and Pellone was aware that I was recording it. Given my extensive experience reporting on Westchester political issues for over a decade, it’s evident that persisting in this direction is detrimental to the credibility of COBA and its members.

The simple truth is, if you negotiated a 6% deal for 2-years, as outlined in your letter on November 1st, presenting it as a favorable arrangement, and the county accepted it, a fact that DCE Jenkins confirmed, then what justification is there for an upcoming protest on November 13th? It would seem that it will only make the situation worse and make the COBA leadership persona non-grata as far as the county government is concerned!

Stay tuned to Black Westchester for more on this developing story!

AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson
AJ Woodson is the Editor-In-Chief and co-owner of Black Westchester, Host & Producer of the People Before Politics Radio Show, An Author, Journalism Fellow (Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism), Rap Artist - one third of the legendary underground rap group JVC FORCE known for the single Strong Island, Radio Personality, Hip-Hop Historian, Documentarian, Activist, Criminal Justice Advocate and Freelance Journalist whose byline has appeared in several print publications and online sites including The Source, Vibe, the Village Voice, Upscale, Sonicnet.com, Launch.com, Rolling Out Newspaper, Daily Challenge Newspaper, Spiritual Minded Magazine, Word Up! Magazine, On The Go Magazine and several others.

8 COMMENTS

  1. Thank you for trying to explain this complicated and seemingly unnecessary back and forth position that the union has taken. Fingers crossed for a resolution by the end of this year.

  2. If the county wants to treat WDOC like the WCPD then make the WDOC salary the same. If this was to be done why would one ask for more then the other.

  3. First of all the County and the Taxpayers have no clue and unaware of what officers had face up close during COVID. Facing something all new to the world that caused death across the nation and in correction facilities. Officer had to go to work under a lot of stress and worries because COVID was spending rapidly throughout the facility. The fear of catching COVID and bringing it home to your live ones and elderly parents were weighing heavy on officers minds. Being forced to work doubles ( 16 hr ) shifts mostly 3 out of 5 days and at times for some 5 out of 5 days. Let’s not forget about the officers who had elementary kids at home do to schools being closed and had to learn from home mainly unsupervised which for some could’ve been a CPS case against officers. The County and Taxpayers aren’t aware how officers had to work the tray line in the kitchen and deliver the trays to the inmates. Also working in supply making linen carts, orange uniform carts, fold laundry and deliver dirty laundry pushing heavy carts. All because the inmate trustees could work because cell blocks after cell blocks were on quarantine because inmates had COVID. Yet a lot of the County employees worked from the comfort of their own homes during COVID. Yet the County doesn’t want to respect the hard work and sacrifices made by officers and their families. Perhaps Taxpayers should be allowed to talk to officers and really hear what they had to face during COVID and working in FEAR.

    • I agree with everything you’ve said, but the main question is: Who is currently responsible for educating the public about the role of Corrections Officers (COs)? In the past, it was the UNION, specifically COBA, that took on this responsibility. I remember when I was a union delegate during Commissioner Joe Spano’s tenure, now your Commissioner, and we actively engaged with the community by visiting churches, synagogues, and mosques to inform their congregations about the hard work of Corrections Officers.

      At that time, every delegate needed to establish working relationships with politicians, business owners, and various organizations throughout Westchester County, not just walk around the building on their cell phones. This outreach effort played a significant role in making us the highest-paid law enforcement department in the mid-90s. However, these proactive strategies have waned over the years.

      Another thing, how many press releases has COBA sent to the press about officer assaults? COs getting they ass whipped and nobody knows about it!

      The decline in our pay relative to County PD officers by 2000 and the less favorable contracts can partly be attributed to changes in union leadership and contract negotiations. Look at your union leadership! From Delbene to Alonzo, those idiots that the membership voted for! The two stupid contracts that Alonzo negotiated that the membership voted for. If you were there and voted for it, you have to blame yourself. Still, as usual, nobody these days will admit they voted for the two stupid Alonzo contracts that made us pay into healthcare, lower the wages of officers, and went from for years to seven to get to top pay. It’s important to acknowledge that the membership voted for these unfavorable contract terms.

      Whether you were here when Alonzo’s contracts were negotiated or just joined us recently, from the county’s perspective, COBA negotiated and willingly accepted those terms. It’s essential to understand that the county only owes COBA what was agreed upon in those contracts. So whoever started the dumb shit that the county owes you healthcare and or anything else is an idiot because the union accepted these terms under Alonzo.

      So, instead of solely blaming the county, when will COBA man the fuck up reflect on their choices. We cannot rewrite history and pretend that the county is exclusively responsible for our current situation. The county only owes us what COBA has negotiated and what the membership has voted for. Unfortunately, these decisions have put Correction Officers significantly behind police officers in pay. It’s time for us to take a hard look in the mirror and take responsibility for our role in shaping our current circumstances. If not, keep looking like idiots to the county elected officials.

  4. Mr. Woodson, you are aware that law makers, department heads and top aids in in Westchester county budgeted raises for from 26 percent to 52 percent according to an article published in lohud November 18th 2019. Yet you offer 10 percent to the DOC. You make a very strong point in regards to the medical, so can I ask why the WCDOC can not even get a cost of living increase, especially when you factor in how the cost of living skyrocketed after covid.

    • Yes, I am aware and never agreed, Mr. Green, but does that change the contracts that COBA has negotiated in the past? How do you expect to win arbitration when all the other unions get 2-3 percent increases? As I said in the article, MVPD was offered 6 years of ZEROS. Trust me, I am not justifying anything, but explain to me how you will justify what you say to the public when they can look up any CO salary and see that many have made close to 200k when the average salary in Westchester is 80k? Do you vote in Westchester? Last night, the voters didn’t have a problem with the Legislators giving themselves a raise because they all got reelected. Could you make it make sense to me?

  5. Mr. Woodson

    First thing is first, anything less than at least 14% is an insult. We are the hardworking professionals that made it to work everyday during a pandemic when the county workforce was home “Heroes work her” as praised by the county. Don’t let the county tell you they paid us a hazard pay stipend because that was federal money that they had to give us or would have to give it back to the federal government. I know what kind of retroactive pay I would receive and I would still vote no because we honestly deserve more. Your everyday work force members cannot get a decent contract but elected officials can give themselves raises of 26% -50% raises? One more thing if I may? county police accepted 10% over four years. Here is the issue with us in corrections, our medical premium payments go up every year even when not in contracts county police’s does not, we pay a higher percentage then them to begin with so the same raise is not really a raise, in order to receive the same actual raise we would need more than what county p.d received otherwise it’s not a raise. I’m not saying that the county police does not deserve what they received but let’s face it we correction officers are treated as the red headed step children of the county.

    • Mr. Jones, I want to emphasize that I have never stated that you don’t deserve the money. Having known Damon (DK Jones) for years, I am well aware of the valuable work you both contribute. However, the main issue discussed in this article doesn’t revolve around your deservingness. Instead, it pertains to the actions of your president, Neil Pellone.

      Pellone admitted to spreading false information about the county offering a two-year deal at 6 percent, and he also acknowledged not informing you or the membership about the four-year deal and retroactive pay. I have a recorded interview with Pellone, and it’s crucial to clarify that the county’s response to Damon’s (DK Jones) article wouldn’t have occurred if the true source of the 6 percent two-year deal had not been misrepresented. In simpler terms, this conversation and the article itself wouldn’t exist if the facts about who initiated the 6 percent offer were accurate.

      Additionally, I want to make it clear that I didn’t write anything about hazzard pay. I am fully aware of the raises that county politicians granted themselves. If you are a Westchester voter, it’s worth noting that all the legislators were re-elected, indicating voter approval of their actions.

      Regarding the high healthcare costs, these were a result of your union’s negotiations, which the membership agreed to at the time. It’s important to recognize that the county is not obligated to change anything that was negotiated and approved by COBA and its members, even if it turned out to be a disadvantageous deal. If you find these terms unsatisfactory, you may wonder why you accepted the job initially.

      I understand your frustration, and I share your concerns about your former union President negotiating two unfavorable contracts that have put COBA behind other law enforcement unions in Westchester. While I hope you achieve the changes you desire, it may be challenging to amend agreements that COBA previously accepted. I sincerely wish you and your colleagues the best of luck, and I recommend involving more experienced negotiators in future contract discussions.

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