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Apr 26, 2011 11:19 AMPublication: The East Hampton Press

East Hampton Town Highway Employee Protests Losing His Job

Apr 26, 2011 6:12 PM

One of two East Hampton Town employees who will be laid off this month let the Town Board know he was not happy with its decision on Thursday.

Stephen Lester, an automotive equipment operator for the Highway Department, took the podium at the board’s meeting and decried its decision to lay him off, saying his department has a surplus and the town recently hired three police department employees at higher salaries.

“Why do you have to get rid of me?” asked Mr. Lester, 45, an Amagansett resident. “I’m a lousy $40,000 a year plus insurance. It’s unbelievable. I’ve lived here for 45 years and if you do this tonight there will be repercussions. This is an election year and I have a lot of friends.”

Mr. Lester’s comments did not stop the Town Board from voting later in the meeting to cut the two positions. All four board members who were present voted in favor of the resolution. The fifth member, Councilman Pete Hammerle, was absent.

“If you ever catch me making a decision based on an election, throw me out,” Supervisor Bill Wilkinson said in response to Mr. Lester. “Throw me out right away, okay? You can throw me out, but it’s going to be based on a business decision, based on what I thought was appropriate for the Town of East Hampton in the position that it’s in.”

Later in the meeting, Mr. Wilkinson moved to extend the two employees’ health benefits for three months. He said the resolution was spurred by a discussion with Councilman Dominick Stanzione during a break in the meeting.

Mr. Lester and one other employee were laid off as a result of the town’s decision to close its Sanitation Department facilities on Wednesdays, a move that Mr. Wilkinson projected will save the town $200,000. The change went into effect on April 6.

Although the two positions cut by the Town Board were in the Sanitation Department—those of a senior scale house operator and a heavy equipment operator—Mr. Lester was laid off because he had less seniority than other employees. He had been at his current job for two years, although he said he did an eight-year stint in the same position in the past. He said he was told he was being laid off the day before the meeting.

The heavy equipment operator is licensed to perform Mr. Lester’s job and had seniority, according to Town Director of Human Resources Patricia Breen, so he or she must be transferred to Mr. Lester’s position under the town employees’ contract. The senior scale house operator, Ms. Breen said, will become a lower-level scale house operator, bumping another employee, whose identity Ms. Breen said is not yet public information.

Mr. Lester, a Democrat, also served as a Town Trustee for 10 years, losing his seat in 2009. He said he is seeking the Democratic and Independence nominations to run again this year.

Elaine Jones, chairwoman of the East Hampton Independence Party, also had sharp words for Mr. Wilkinson, saying he reneged on a campaign promise he made to her party and the town employees’ union in 2009 to not resort to layoffs.

“During the last year the employees have been fearful of layoffs, but I defended you and told many, Bill, that they didn’t have to worry—you had promised,” Ms. Jones said, describing Mr. Lester as “a young fisherman who went to work for the town to support his children” and the other laid off employee as a “single mom trying to send her child to college.”

Mr. Wilkinson contested her account. “I think what I said last year was that we’d take every possibility, okay, to do it on a voluntary basis,” he said.

The Town Board used a retirement incentive and hiring freeze to cut 50 positions last year.

Councilwoman Theresa Quigley said the layoffs were a budget decision. “What we have is a budget issue, and it’s not unique to us,” she said. “It’s going on across the world, in fact, but certainly in the United States and certainly across New York.”

Due to the $27 million deficit the Town Board inherited, Ms. Quigley said, the town will spend $4 million more next year without the current board “touching anything.”

Referring to the hiring of the police officers, Mr. Wilkinson said, “It’s not incongruous to do something in one area and cut in another area, to invest in 
areas, and build in areas, to seek revenue in areas and cut in areas.”

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Have any of the press really looked into this story to see what happened here? While i can understand Mr. Lester being upset that he was "bumped" from the Highway Department under union seniority rules - the "bumper" from the Sanitation Department (who is collecting SS and has another job) also "bumped' his own daughter out of her job . . . and this is, somehow, the Town Board's fault?? Who could have predicted that Mr. North wouldn't take the retirement incentive . . . over his own daughter. ...more
By Board Watcher (534), East Hampton on May 7, 11 12:10 AM
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