Proposal offers Nassau, unions a way around logjam

Jon Kaiman is shown at a Nassau Interim

Jon Kaiman is shown at a Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA) meeting in Uniondale on Oct. 9, 2013. (Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas)

Nassau Interim Finance Authority chairman Jon Kaiman has offered Nassau and its employee unions a possible way to break a logjam in negotiations.

The carrot would temporarily eliminate a 3-year-old wage freeze that's kept some employees stuck with $23,500-a-year wages, despite Nassau's contractual obligation to increase compensation.

The stick is that Nassau and its unions would have to produce on promises of more revenue and permanent savings.


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It's an intriguing approach.

Kaiman is, in effect, offering both sides the option of building a bridge between escalating and ultimately unsustainable contractual costs of police and other union employees to levels that are more affordable.

The pitch -- and, without numbers and costs and savings analysis, it is only a pitch -- could set talks on a new path.

It's a move, frankly, that the county itself made necessary after elected officials gave nonunion employees raises.

The justification was that nonunion employees took on additional duties, and thus deserved more compensation.

But in Nassau, an even larger universe of union employees has significantly increased duties too. Yet, because of Nassau's fiscal crisis, they didn't get raises -- or, as did many nonunion employees -- title changes used to justify higher pay.

Collectively, the raises, pronouncements of budget surpluses, aid for superstorm Sandy recovery, red light camera revenue and increases in sales taxes make it hard to plead poverty. That's not to say that Nassau's budget crisis is over -- NIFA estimates that the county has a $100 million deficit.

Nassau may have money enough to pay nonunion raises. If that's the case, it should have enough to meet contractual obligations too -- especially since the wage freeze has produced $230 million in savings.

Kaiman's pitch is that the freeze could be lifted quickly if unions agreed to receive no back pay for compensation lost in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

That would be a significant change from proposals negotiated between County Executive Edward Mangano and police, for example, which included restoring that compensation.

Kaiman and NIFA repeatedly have made clear that it won't happen, although the unions have challenged the wage freeze in court. And, in his letter, Kaiman makes clear that it can't happen, because compensation frozen is compensation lost and Nassau couldn't afford to pay back so large a lump sum.

Where did Kaiman's pitch come from?

He said he told NIFA board members last week that he was working on a way to redirect the county and its unions away from proposals NIFA won't approve toward ones that were more realistic.

"The idea was to move past the impossible to the realm of the possible," Kaiman said.

He is, however, the first to acknowledge that the pitch could go nowhere. "It's to get the discussion going, to get it moving," he said.

And so, NIFA and Nassau and its unions, are now running the numbers -- trying to see whether Kaiman's pitch is acceptable or whether it can be tailored for success.

Ultimately, the county and each union would have to negotiate separate proposals -- which, then would be subject to the approval of NIFA's board.

For now, Kaiman's pitch could spark talks that lead to a break in the logjam on lifting the wage freeze -- which was supposed to spur productive agreements, not last forever.