COOPERATION HAS HELPED: Daniel Levler, who was recently elected to a third term as president of the Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees, said that working closely with county officials on a response to the coronavirus had eased the process of providing protective equipment and other safety measures, while an agreement to defer a longevity differential averted the possibility of layoffs.

Dan Levler, the president of the Suffolk Association of Municipal Employees, has prevailed in a hotly contested three-way race to lead the union that represents most of the county workforce.

Mr. Levler, 46, is just the second president to win a third term in the history of the 36-year-old union.

6-Point Victory Margin

He and his running mates garnered 39.4 percent of the vote. The Craig Rhodes team came in second with 33.1 percent followed by Annette Mahoney's slate which got 26.8 percent. Salvatore Esposito, running without a slate, got less than 1 percent.

More than 2,700 of the union's 5,215 members eligible to vote participated.

In a March 30 phone interview, Mr. Levler said that he saw the close battle for leadership as a sign of the union's health and success at rank-and-file engagement.

"It is good to have people run," he said. "At the end of the day, what any team should be about is finding out what the members are interested in and what their needs are...in an election process you get to have a lot of those conversations. Otherwise, members might whisper to a co-worker 'I've got this issue or that issue,' but that doesn't usually solve problems, because we won't know they exist."

The Suffolk AME president said that throughout the pandemic he and his members have worked with County Executive Steven Bellone and agency managers on how best to address the occupational-health and economic challenges posed by the coronavirus.

'Worked Through Issues'

"We were in communication with senior management...working through issues like, do we use plexiglass, do desks need to be moved apart, what's considered an area of ingress or egress?" he said. "I was drawing on my experience in public works. These buildings were not designed for six-foot separation. Being able to address issues as they were happening, that was great."

Many of his members were central to Suffolk's public-health and social-welfare-agency response to the COVID crisis.

Mr. Levler said one union member died and dozens contracted the disease. They also faced uncertainty about threatened staffing cuts because of the county's economic losses linked to the virus. 

"There's a lot of uncertainty," he said. "Right up until the balloting period...almost until the day balloting closed, there was the question of the $75-million gap in the budget that would have meant 500 lost jobs. But with the Federal funding coming through, and the relationship we built [with management] negotiating through the crisis to keep everyone safe, we did not have any jobs lost."

Deferred Longevity Pay

Last May, the union agreed to a six-month deferral of longevity benefits. In exchange, Mr. Bellone agreed to cover members' salaries and health benefits without tapping into their leave banks if they contracted the virus and granted them a Workers' Compensation COVID presumption.

In contrast, the state is one of 31 that lacks such a presumption that extended absences are linked to the impact of the virus, and some unions have reported that employers were fighting the claims made by their members.

"We really insulated our members because they are able to file without the burden of proof being on them to prove they got it at work," Mr. Levler said.

He supports a bill introduced by State Sen. Brad Hoylman to create a voluntary COVID Health Registry, similar to the one created for the 9/11 first-responders and survivors who lived and worked in lower Manhattan and western Brooklyn. It was that registry which helped both state and Federal policy makers gauge the public-health implications from the toxic exposure in the areas they became evident years later.

"There are still the concerns about the long-term effects of COVID," Mr. Levler said.

Tribute to Unions' Work

He contended unions had highlighted the importance of workplace safety for all workers. saying it "moved the needle on health and safety, testing, [personal protective equipment] access, much the same way labor unions affect wages in the non-union sectors."

His leadership team includes Executive Vice President Thomas Moran; Vice Presidents Nicholas P.K. De Bello, Sebastian Chiaramonte, Christian W. Limbach and Stanley J. Humin III; Treasurer Linda L. Brown; and Recording Secretary Christina Maher.


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