WORKING ON A SCHEME
Nassau’s probation department could probably use Hilliard but the county’s continuing fiscal difficulties, coupled with Mangano’s steadfast refusal to raise property taxes—Nassau ranks as one of the highest taxed suburban counties in the nation—don’t bode well.
Mangano’s efforts to slash $41 million from his budget by changing the provisions of the county’s contracts with its five public labor unions was dealt a major setback by Judge Spatt. In May, the Republicans in the Nassau Legislature, who have a 10-9 majority over the Democrats, gave Mangano unilateral authority to open up the collective bargaining agreements to achieve the spending cuts after the Democrats had blocked the county’s borrowing the money to pay outstanding property tax refunds. The reason? They’re in a bitter fight with the Republicans over the Nassau GOP’s redistricting plan that threatens to make them more of a minority in the legislature than they already are.
“Politics have hit rock bottom in Nassau County: no trust, no cooperation,” says Jim Carver, president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, one of the unions affected by the ruling. “You look at Suffolk, and although they have two parties out there, they’ve always seemed to be able to work something out in a bipartisan manner.”
Besides the injunction, the federal judge also refused Nassau’s request to get the unions to post a $40 million bond in escrow that would be used for property tax refunds.
Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli tells the Press he’s encouraged by openings he sees in Spatt’s ruling that his side may still prevail.
“It’s not that bad,” he says. “It’s very narrow. It only affects, frankly, one or two subparagraphs of the law…. I think there are a couple of wrinkles in there that might make it vulnerable to an appeal.”
Although the county hasn’t decided whether to appeal, Ciampoli believes the ruling may force the county to take more draconian measures with its employees.
“In some ways it could be a pyrrhic victory for the unions,” says Ciampoli. “If I were the unions, I don’t know that I’d be celebrating quite too much because if I can’t alter some provisions in contracts, and if I presume that the recalcitrance of some of the members of organized labor to negotiate givebacks remains in place, what alternatives does that leave? …. There are those who have said that our union contracts are gold-plated. Maybe it’s time to take a little of the gold-plating off so that we can keep as many people working as possible and we cannot tax the taxpayers of the county to death.”
Legis. Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa), the legislature’s presiding officer, agrees.
“In times of recession, everyone must give a little,” he says. “Extravagant union contracts are no longer sustainable, and raising property taxes is not an option.”
Mangano says the ruling will likely mean more layoffs.
“The court’s decision comes weeks after I implemented a workforce reduction plan that cut the total headcount by over 1,800 positions since 2010,” says Mangano in a statement. “My administration will continue to work to deliver services while protecting residents from a property tax hike.”
Not surprisingly, Democrats in the Nassau legislature saw the ruling in a different light.
“Instead of working on real solutions to fix the ongoing budget crisis, Ed Mangano again has wasted valuable taxpayer resources on another unsuccessful and costly legal battle,” Legis. Kevan Abrahams (D-Hempstead), the minority leader, says in a statement. “In Suffolk the county executive has established a working relationship with the union leaders and through that relationship he has been able to produce real savings to current and future taxpayers. Unfortunately, in Nassau, County Executive Mangano has decided the best way to negotiate with the unions is through threats and all-out war.”
Earlier this month, Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone, a Democrat, announced that he’d reached a deal with Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk Police Benevolent Association, on a tentative eight-year contract, subject to union approval, which forgoes retroactive pay raises and slows the rate of pay hikes for new officers. In Nassau, Carver is reportedly locked in contentious negotiations on concessions and other issues with Mangano, and what they work out must be approved by NIFA.
“Without NIFA in place, I’d be very confident that the county executive and I could work out a deal,” says Carver.
He joined the plaintiffs—the CSEA Local 830, the Nassau Detectives Association, Inc., the Nassau County Sheriffs Officers Association and the Superior Officers Association—in solidarity over Spatt’s ruling.
“I think it’s a big win, not only for Nassau County employees, but for everybody throughout the country because if [Mangano] would have prevailed here, you know that Suffolk, the state, everybody would have tried to enact their own laws that would enable them to breach contracts at will after they’ve been fairly negotiated,” says Carver.
“If Ed Mangano would govern per his instincts and not…a political agenda, I think we’d all be better off,” says Laricchiuta.
His CSEA local represents more than 9,000 members in Nassau, including nearly 6,000 people working for the county and 3,000 working for the Nassau Health Care Corporation. CSEA has given Nassau some $132 million in labor concessions since 2008, according to Laricchiuta, and it has another suit pending against NIFA to try to overturn the wage freeze it imposed more than a year ago. His frustration with the county is palpable, adding that the county’s layoffs have even started to impact the county’s 911 call center, which he claims had only one person on duty between 3 a.m. and 7 a.m. on a recent Saturday morning.
“If you have a home invasion, do you want to get a busy signal when you dial 911? What kind of shit is that!?” he exclaims to the Press. “We’re the highest-taxed county in America and our services mirror those from a small town in Mississippi.”