Recent incidents involving the Schenectady County Sheriff’s Department have led to proposed changes for the department’s new contract with its union.
The county voted 14-0 to pass the contract at its meeting Tuesday. Legislator Brian McGarry, a Republican representing Duanesburg, Princetown, Rotterdam and the village of Delanson, was excused.
The contract, which will retroactively start Jan. 1, 2021, and go through December 31, 2025, was approved 73-5 by the Sheriff’s Benevolent Association, said county Attorney Chris Gardner.
In late August, a corrections officer and sergeant were bitten by an inmate as they were checking the inmate’s cell, said Greg Snyder, the president of the Sheriff’s Benevolent Association.
Those officers had to take medicine that caused them to be ill for a week as they recovered from the incident, he said.
It’s one of the most troubling hazardous incidents Gardner said he’s ever seen.
Snyder said that is just one example of a hazardous condition an officer could encounter and why the union fought to increase hazard duty pay. Officers receive 1.5% on top of their hourly or salary rate while working in a hazardous condition. Under the new contract that would increase to 2.5%.
On Aug. 6, 10 sheriff’s vehicles, along with five firefighter vehicles, were vandalized in the department’s parking lot. Each car had more than $250 but less than $1,500 in damage. If the new contract passes officers could be reimbursed up to $1,000 upon a certified claim by the sheriff.
Also in the proposed contract is an incentive for corrections officers to get vaccinated. Corrections employees who get vaccinated prior to Dec.1 will get an additional vacation day and if 80% of all corrections employees get vaccinated then those who were vaccinated will get a $200 bonus.
The union has 162 members, Snyder said, only about 35% are vaccinated.
“I believe it will help sway some members,” Snyder said.
“Sixty-three correction staff have tested positive for COVID-19 – a rate exceeding 40%,” said Gardner in an email to county Manager Rory Fluman that was a document provided for the meeting. “Although there is no proven causal connection that the officers contracted COVID at the correctional facility, their positivity rate is about triple the rate for Schenectady County residents.”
Other changes to the contract include increased pay and changes in longevity pay.
In 2021 officers will get a 2% pay increase and a $2,000 bonus. Pay would then increase each year through 2025 by 2.25%.
The contract also allows for a 25-year longevity step, meaning when an officer has been at the department for 25 years they will be receiving 15% on top of their base pay, Gardner said.
The prior contract offered a 20-year longevity step, where officers in their 20th year received 12% on top of their base salary.
Officers make around $55,000 a year, Gardner said.
“Due to staffing shortages we’re trying to entice members to stay,” Snyder said.
Both Snyder and Garnder said fewer people are becoming officers.
“The most recent civil service examination for corrections officers only had 39 individuals pass it,” Gardner said in his email on the contract. “The last examination had 85 individuals pass.”
Other additions to the contract mirrored those recently added to other union contracts with the county. They include Juneteenth as a holiday, a change to health insurance plans and paid family leave for a newborn, adopted or fostered child.
Reporter Shenandoah Briere can be reached at 518-478-3320 or at [email protected]