Union deal may have been Mangano's undoing

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano (Jan. 13, 2011)

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano (Jan. 13, 2011) (Credit: Charles Eckert)

Joye Brown

Newsday columnist Joye Brown Joye Brown

Joye Brown has been a columnist for Newsday since 2006.

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The last rabbit Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano pulled out of a hat this week in an attempt to stop a fiscal takeover was a memorandum of understanding with the county's largest union that he billed as historic.

It was historic, all right, representing another great leap backward in how the county deals with its unions.

Instead of saving Mangano, the memo may have played into just the kind of justification the Nassau Interim Finance Authority needed to take over.

The memo, despite the "historic" moniker included in a news release from Mangano's office, amounted to little more than more of the same. And, also bad for Mangano, it served up a heaping plate of same old, same old management style that's kept Nassau from gaining substantive fiscal ground in the decade since NIFA came into being.

On Wednesday, Ronald Stack, NIFA's chairman, said he had not seen a copy of the memorandum; presumably, the board hasn't seen a cost-benefit analysis either. All Stack and the board were left with was a news release, and its assertion that the deal would generate $2 million savings in 2011.

"That would not fix the gap," said Stack, who pegs its size at $176 million.

The memorandum itself tells a straightforward story. The document goes against almost everything included in decade-old NIFA guideline on dealing with county unions.

The memorandum continues the county's habit of save now, pay later. Yes, there are savings for new employees - during a time when the county likely won't be hiring any.

Those already on the payroll would get 3.25 percent salary increases in 2016 and 2017 - higher than the average rise in the cost of living.

The memorandum, among other things, includes a me-too clause that would give CSEA members any gravy any other county union got in salary or health benefits in the future - planting the potential for a domino-effect of increased expenses.

The memorandum would extend the CSEA contract - and, along with it incentive to negotiate - out through 2017.

And it extends to the CSEA a provision enjoyed by law-enforcement unions: Binding arbitration.

It doesn't stop there, also calling for the use of only one arbitrator, Martin Scheinman, if the sides can't agree.

Suffolk officials have said they never want to use Scheinman again because, they feel, he is too kind to unions.

Much has been made of public employee unions being the enemy; that's not fair. The job of union negotiators is to get the best deal possible for their members. And, in Nassau, they've managed that job well.

The issue, in Nassau and in other municipalities, is that elected officials haven't bargained as aggressively, or professionally, as they should.

Part of the problem is that they've come to depend on unions for political contributions and election-night manpower. There's nothing wrong with that. But it influences negotiations.

With NIFA in charge, it's unlikely that the memorandum will go anywhere. And it shouldn't. Personnel costs are the largest part of any municipal budget. But the CSEA, despite its numbers, has most of the lowest-paid employees in Nassau.

The big bucks are in the police unions, which - unless NIFA decides otherwise - are locked into contracts until 2016.

With NIFA, the county has a chance to move in a different direction. The sooner the better.