Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano threw down the gauntlet Thursday afternoon.
“There will be labor savings,” he said. “Voluntarily, ordered or there will be layoffs.”
Along with Legislative Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt, R-Massapequa, and county Comptroller George Maragos, Mangano gave a briefing on the Taxpayer Relief Act (TRA), a bill designed to grant the executive branch authority to make revisions in labor contracts with the county’s unions, and which has been in legislative limbo since its introduction in September 2010.
“The costs related to our work costs have simply become too great for our taxpayers to fund through the real property taxes that are collected,” Mangano, a Republican, told reporters at the county Legislative building, saying that they are “at a breaking point” and calling on unions to agree to renegotiate their contracts during these tough economic times.” If not, Mangano said he is fully prepared to order the concessions.
Labor contracts can only be opened by mutual agreement between the unions and the county. Both Mangano and Schmitt voted for the contracts when they sat on the county Legislature together. Mangano said that he voted based on the facts that were presented at the time.
The differences now, Mangano said, are that the county is currently facing an estimated $343- million budget deficit and the threat of takeover by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA). Over the past several months, Mangano has touted $148 million in spending cuts as well as trimming payroll by 600 employees, resulting in $55 million in savings and what administration officials say is a balanced 2011 budget.
However, the county executive insists that the budget won’t be balanced for 2012 and beyond unless labor costs are reigned in.
The contracts in question were negotiated during the administration of former Democratic County Executive Tom Suozzi and run through 2016. The contracts include a no-layoff provision, annual salary raises, and longevity pay, among other provisions.
“The contracts entered into and approved by former county executive Tom Suozzi are simply unsustainable,” Schmitt said. “We don’t have the money to pay those contracts. Nobody who works for private industry has some of these benefits and receives some of these benefits.”
As part of the contracts negotiated under Suozzi, union members agreed to have wages deferred, as well as two lagged payroll periods, the second of which will be from April to November this year.
“We’re still in the middle of that,” CSEA Local 830 President Jerry Laricchiuta said, adding that the average union member makes $53,000 a year, while the average union pension is $18,000 a year.
The CSEA is still talking with the Mangano administration, but is more open to modify terms for new hires than already existing members.
“Any compensation package that this union’s been able to negotiate for our members we would like to hold onto,” Laricchiuta said. “For people that are not here yet we’re willing to talk. It would be permanent structural change. It wouldn’t be on the backs of the current employees.”
According to the county’s estimates, raises within the contracts are projected to exceed the consumer price index by over $500 million, with a $60-million increase to the 2012 budget alone. NIFA can bring only $10 million in relief by halting the annual step increases to union employees, a fact Mangano railed against, saying the state watchdog would become a “shadow government” of Nassau County.
“Once they administer that, if they were to do that, the unions have no incentive to negotiate with us at all. None. I say it works counterproductive to Nassau County’s future,” Mangano said.
According to Schmitt, the legislature would hold hearings through the budget review committee in late January or early February.
“We’re going to have testimony from various people as to exactly what they’re facing next year relative to these unsustainable labor contracts,” he said.
But Schmitt isn’t expecting any support across the aisle from Democrats.
“We’ve had no bipartisan support for anything,” he said, while the county executive stated that “we would call on all the legislators to do the right thing on behalf of the public to reign in costs.”
In a statement, Legislative Minority Leader Diane Yatauro, D-Glen Cove, said that Mangano "recently stated that he did not require labor concessions because he had several contingency plans that will provide sufficient savings. Now he claims he needs concessions to maintain a balanced budget into next year. The urgent task before the county executive is 2011. He should completely focus his attention on assuring the state oversight board that he is managing this year’s budget.”
If passd, the act would grant the authority to modify terms of the contracts. Mangano said he would “order the savings necessary to keep the contract affordable for the county,” and mentioned targeting benefits.
“We don’t believe that this law is the right way to go and we think it complicates things and we doubt its legality,” Laricchiuta said. “If they implement it against the CSEA we would absolutely have to challenge it in court.”
The county appeared firm in its stance that it will push the bill in the legislature while it continues talk with the union leadership.
“We’re willing to continue talking to the county executive as we have been trying to make the future look better,” Laricchiuta said. “We want to see this county executive have the opportunity to use his budget and his plans and his strategies to make it work. We think he deserves a fair chance. At what cost, I don’t know.”
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