LI Unions Fight To Survive


OVERTIME

One Nassau County worker who’d get relief if CSEA’s lawsuit ever thawed NIFA’s wage freeze is Marc Pollack, 32, a father of two young kids, who’s been working as a paramedic for three years, providing Nassau residents “the highest level of pre-hospital emergency care,” he says. He took a pay cut to work for the county.

“It seemed like a good career move,” says Pollack, seated at his kitchen table in Williston Park as his wife Melissa, a physical therapist, nursed a cup of coffee by the sink. But it hasn’t worked out that way. He figures he’s making about $25,000 to $30,000 less than where he’d be if he’d stayed with North Shore-LIJ and he brings home about $2,000 a month.


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He says he loves what he does for the county but “layoffs and furloughs have been threatened pretty much my entire career [here] so far.” He says because he has no job security he and his wife live with the constant fear that if he’s laid off, they’d lose their home.

The couple, who’ve been married more than seven years, are working almost around the clock to make ends meet. They juggle their schedules so one of them can look after their kids and they don’t have to pay for child care.

The day they invited this reporter to their home so they could share their story, he’d worked until 6 a.m. at his part-time job as an EMT for a fire district, and he’d pull another all-nighter starting at 5 o’clock. His full-time schedule for the county, which varies month to month, slated him to work the weekend. His wife had just come home from her per diem job, which she’d begun at 7 a.m.

“This is the two hours a day we get to see each other,” Melissa Pollack says with a tired smile. Her husband figures he works more than 70 hours a week, between his two jobs, and gets about five or six hours of sleep a day. She says she gets “maybe four to five hours” because “I’m still the mom at home!”

PARAMEDIC MARC POLLACK, at his home in Williston Park, loves his work helping Nassau County residents but not the pay freeze the control board imposed. (Spencer Rumsey/Long Island Press)

Pollack says, “I start off my day by putting on a bullet-proof vest.” Although he works for the police department, he isn’t armed, but because he carries a radio and the ambulances have the word “police” painted on their sides some people have “the misconception” that he’s a law enforcement officer, not an emergency medicine provider.

“In my line of work there’s an inherent risk,” he says.

As his wife tended their 3-year-old daughter, he recounted how he’d been in a few car accidents crossing intersections because some motorists failed to yield to the ambulance despite its sirens wailing and lights flashing. Other problems can come up, too.

“Last night I was treating somebody who was so out of control she kicked me in the head,” he says, with a stoic expression, because he knew the woman meant no harm. What really hurts him, though, is that he can’t spend more time with his family.

“My son was saying, ‘Daddy, when are we going to have time together?’ My 5-year-old boy was missing me!” he laments. “That’s the big impact.”

Still, he likes the work.

“I’m kind of all-in, hoping my cards play out,” says Pollack. “Your first couple of years you’re paying your dues.”

But now he doesn’t know what’s going to happen—especially with the announcement that Mangano wants to make still more cuts in the public service. Whether he continues to do the “job I love” for Nassau, he’ll have to wait and see.

Though Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone has a better relationship with his police union than Mangano has with his—Suffolk PBA president Noel DiGerolamo says Bellone is a “breath of fresh air” compared to his predecessor, Steve Levy—that’s not the case with the Suffolk County Association of Municipal Employees, who have lost 300 workers since he took office and determined that the county was facing a projected $530 million deficit by the end of 2013.

“We are the lowest-paid employees in Suffolk County,” says newly elected president Dan Farrell. “The problem we’re having here is [that] the county is trying to balance its budget on the backs of AME members… We didn’t cause this problem, yet they want to take it out on us and that’s the biggest challenge I’m facing.”

Perhaps the most contentious issue between Farrell and Bellone is the county executive’s attempt to sell the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility to private nursing home operators Israel Sherman and his nephew Samuel, which could mean that more than 200 AME workers are at risk. Bellone says the prospective buyers have promised to offer them jobs as well as keep the remaining 194 patients at the 264-bed building—and in turn Suffolk would get $23 million for the sale, which Bellone could use to cut into his deficit.

“How do you justify turning down an agreement that would cut the deficit by $30 million when you have a quality private sector operator who’s keeping all the patients and all of the staff?” says Bellone. “How would you justify not doing that in light of having to lay off all these employees because of the financial situation?”

He says that Easter Seals, which had visited the facility several times, was interested in a private-public partnership but “they said maybe they could phase something in over three years.” Bellone reportedly wants to get the sale approved by Sept. 13.

The latest offer does not sit well with Farrell, who defeated the previous AME union chief, Cheryl Felice, in an election this spring largely over her going along with Levy’s attempt to sell the facility to a different private operator—a move Farrell called “unconscionable” because the Foley workers definitely would have lost their jobs. Of course, at that point, the offer to the county was $36 million. Now the price has dropped.

“We’ve been hitting brick walls with the sale of John J. Foley,” Farrell says. “They’ve been refusing to meet and sit down with us.”

Interestingly, the fate of the nursing home got drawn into the hotly contested Congressional race between incumbent Rep. Tim Bishop (D-Southampton) and his conservative Republican challenger, millionaire entrepreneur Randy Altschuler, who showed up to testify at one of the county’s recent public hearings on the Foley sale but didn’t stick around to say his piece, raising questions about his motives.

As one political insider, who asked not to be identified, put it: “In Suffolk County a lot of the public employees are Republican. Maybe the rank and file are paying union dues for stuff they don’t want to support.”

Altschuler’s campaign spokesman, Diana Weir, tells the Press: “His stance was not about pro-union or anti-union; it’s about pro-Suffolk County taxpayers. And making sure that the county was getting the best deal possible, and right now he’s not sure that’s happened.”

Bishop’s spokesman, Robert Pierce, declined to comment on Altschuler’s appearance at the legislature but he did note that nationwide, the Republicans in Congress and the statehouse are no friend to labor. In Wisconsin, Gov. Scott Walker rebuffed a June recall election by unions and their supporters who were furious that the Republican had tossed out the collective bargaining agreement with the state’s public unions. (Labor was reportedly outspent 20-1.)

In Nassau, Mangano attempted to repeat that scenario, although one person close to the county executive but not authorized to speak, tells the Press that Mangano had the idea before Walker. One thing people on both sides of the aisle can agree on is that Labor Day has lost its luster.

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