Constitutionality of Nassau furloughs challenged

Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano. (May 17,

Nassau County Executive Edward P. Mangano. (May 17, 2012) (Credit: Jessica Rotkiewicz)

A bill allowing Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano to unilaterally cut $41 million from the budget by reopening labor contracts and furloughing employees is unconstitutional, county labor unions argue in new filings in federal court.

The unions in June asked U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt for a preliminary injunction preventing Mangano from implementing the bill, arguing it would cause irreparable harm to their members.

The bill "casts a pall upon what should be an ordinary contractual relationship and skews all of the power in the relationship in the county's favor," states a brief submitted last week by the Civil Service Employees Association in support of its case against the county. "The . . . [collective bargaining agreement] is constantly under the threat of evisceration."

But the county argued in its court filings on July 5 that the union's motion is "hopelessly premature" as Mangano's legislation has yet to go into effect. Mangano would have to issue an executive order to enact the measure. County Attorney John Ciampoli said the county would stipulate that the legislation could not take effect for 10 days, giving the unions time to file suit.

Spatt is expected to rule later this month or in early August. He said in court last month that language allowing for the modification of union contracts was "potentially unconstitutional."

Mangano wants to use the savings from the bill to replenish the county's reserve fund, from which he siphoned $41 million last month to pay property tax refunds. County officials fear that if the funds are not returned, Nassau's credit rating could be downgraded.

Minority Democrats in the county legislature have refused to vote to bond for the refunds until Republicans assure them of a "fairer" redistricting process than the GOP has proposed.

Lacking the borrowing authority, the legislature approved a bill in May allowing Mangano to save $41 million by altering the provisions of union contracts, reducing county contributions to health benefits and furloughing employees one day per week. The county's court briefing also suggests that Nassau could eliminate one employee vacation day per year for the next two years.

While the unions argue that the law violates the contracts clause of the U.S. Constitution, the county contends the clause is not absolute and allows the government to "protect the general welfare of its citizens."

The Nassau County Sheriffs' Correction Officers Benevolent Association argued in its brief that the "unions have been living under a clear and present danger that their hard won agreements would be terminated at a moment's notice. Nothing in any applicable precedent requires unions and the civil servants and law enforcement officers represented by them to exist with a guillotine hovering over the heads."

The law enforcement unions also contend that the bill was enacted without a quorum because Legis. Dennis Dunne (R-Levittown) voted from an adjoining room outside public view. The county said a quorum existed because all 19 legislators were present when attendance was called.

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