GOSHEN — Orange County Unit members recently approved a new contract that levels the playing field for wages across the bargaining unit, a win that will aid in the recruitment and retention of workers and restore wage parity.

The agreement establishes all CSEA-represented county workers as 40-hour per week employees. While this was the norm for decades, a former county executive used financial struggles the county was experiencing in the early 2000s to push for a tiered system that paid newer employees for either 37.5 hours or 35 hours per week based on date of hire.

Giving those newer workers parity with the existing 40 hour per week employees will give them a pay jump to help with rising expenses.

“For us negotiating, the first thing we needed to do was even the playing field for our unit membership,” said Orange County Unit President Denise Fuchs. “Putting everybody back to 40 hours has such a vital impact on our union.”

In addition to bringing all workers up to the 40-hourworkweek, the agreement includes percentage wage increases in all five years of the contract. It introduces a separation incentive for county workers with 25 or more years of employment. The contract also includes pandemic/retention pay for existing employees who worked during the pandemic.

In support of county workers who serve in the military, the contract incorporates language formalizing a benefit for workers who are deployed. Based on the workers’ rate of military pay, the county will make up the remainder of a worker’s county salary to ensure they don’t incur financial losses while deployed. County legislators have passed a number of motions over the years instituting this, but incorporating language into the contract guarantees it will continue.

From left to right, Orange County Unit members Shanea Butts, Rob Fair, Lisa Taylor and Wayne Watkins conduct the ballot count for the unit’s newest contract.

Standing together

The negotiations process wasn’t without some challenges.

While many neighboring counties awarded COVID-related bonuses funded by American Rescue Plan Act (ARPA) monies much earlier, Orange County leaders insisted on holding off on resolving the pandemic/retention pay issue until this contract negotiations cycle, even though the ARPA regulations gave elected officials the leeway to award the money as non-contractual bonuses.

Unit leaders had convened a committee to address pandemic/retention pay even before the ARPA monies were dispersed. While our union had pushed prior to negotiations to have workers receive those bonuses, an agreement was eventually reached during contract talks.

The approved contract allows for continued labor-management discussions to address concerns faced by probation officers and security guards at the two SUNY Orange campuses. Workers in those jobs have spoken out during county meetings about concerns surrounding wages and other issues.

Ultimately, staying united and being visible at county legislature meetings and other events was an important part of reaching a deal. Fuchs regularly attends committee meetings and full legislature meetings, and more than 100 members turned out to a legislature meeting shortly before an agreement was reached.

“There have been so many attempts over the years to divide us, but we’re not doing it anymore,” said Fuchs. “The solidarity shown at the February meeting of the county legislature really resonated with the legislators. Hearing directly from the workers made an impact. It’s not always a quick or easy process, but we show our union power when we stand together.”

— Jessica Ladlee


About Author

Jessica Ladlee is the communications specialist for CSEA's Southern Region. A graduate of Boston University, Ladlee is an award-winning journalist who worked as a newspaper editor before joining the CSEA communications team in 2004. She is passionate about the opportunities unions provide for people to join the middle class, something her grandmother did as a Rockland County CSEA member over 50 years ago.

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