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!