Lawmakers OK layoff of 128 county workers

Some of the 128 civil service workers facing the loss of their jobs make an emotional plea to the county. Videojournalist: Jessica Rotkiewicz (June 28, 2011)

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After five hours of debate before a packed audience of angry public workers, Nassau Republican legislators Tuesday approved the layoff of 128 county employees.

Lawmakers voted 10-9 along party lines on the recommendation of County Executive Edward Mangano to lay off union workers in departments ranging from assessment to parks to information technology. Legis. Denise Ford (R-Long Beach) voted with the Democrats against the layoffs, which will take effect at the end of business Thursday.

Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa) said, "Many of us are extremely uncomfortable and unhappy with this situation." But he said "we are not raising taxes" and urged the Civil Service Employees Association, which represents the laid-off workers, to work with Mangano for a solution "to prevent us from voting on an even larger round of layoffs in the future."

Earlier this month, Mangano had announced plans to lay off the workers to save about $10 million annually, part of cost-cutting planned to satisfy the Nassau Interim Finance Authority's mandate to close a budget gap by July 1. NIFA took control of the county's finances in January after finding a $176-million hole in this year's $2.6-billion budget.

Although layoffs were first on the agenda Tuesday, Schmitt instead called a community college budget hearing that lasted two hours, angering union members who packed the legislative chamber and overflowed into the lobby.

"We'll remember in November" chanted dozens of workers outside the chamber, led by CSEA president Jerry Laricchiuta. He said Schmitt was trying "to stall us out. That is what Schmitt does."

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Laricchiuta later called Schmitt disrespectful again at a lengthy public hearing that was punctuated by catcalls, loud arguments between legislators and alternating boos and cheers.

Democratic legislators and CSEA employees decried the effect layoffs would have on county services, while others told personal stories of hardship if they lose their jobs.

"Somewhere in the equation, isn't there a human element in there?" said Lawton Bryant, an employee in the county juvenile detention center.

Chief Deputy County Executive Rob Walker gave the administration's side of the story, saying it had no choice but to lay off the 128 workers to satisfy NIFA.

"None of us want to be here," he said. "We are forced to make cuts that none of us want to make."

He and other Republicans blamed NIFA for holding Mangano to a different budget standard than his predecessor, Democrat Tom Suozzi.

Juvenile detention center employee A. Douglas Thomas urged legislators to stand up to NIFA. "If you genuinely cared about your constituents, you'd stand up to NIFA and say, 'I'm not going to do layoffs.' "

But Legis. Judy Jacobs (D-Woodbury) said he was blaming the wrong people. "NIFA doesn't care about policy. They care about the bottom line," said Jacobs, noting that Mangano had used NIFA reports in the past to campaign against Suozzi.

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