NIFA chief proposes possible end to wage freeze

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. Photo Credit: Newsday / John Paraskevas

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The chairman of Nassau's financial control board yesterday proposed lifting the county's 3-year-old wage freeze if unions give up some back wages and the county finds additional revenue.

Jon Kaiman, chairman of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, said his four-page proposal is meant to start a discussion of ways to end the freeze that has saved the county $230 million, but held county salaries as low as $23,500 since 2011.

The pay freeze, which unions are challenging in court, will expire next month unless NIFA extends it for another year.

Kaiman proposes that unions give up all salary and step increases for 2011 and 2012, and defer payment of their 2013 pay hike until 2016. For that pay increase to occur, Nassau would have to be able to cover the cost from increased revenue from red light cameras or other sources, or contract concessions. The annual step increase for 2013, stemming from a 2010 baseline, would be paid as soon as the unions agree to his plan.

Under the proposal, all new contract agreements would require new union employees to pay a portion of their pension and health insurance costs while the unions would agree to waive any right to litigate the loss of pay increases.

"We need to make a good-faith effort to see if it's possible to lift the wage freeze pursuant to circumstances that protect the county's finances but also acknowledge that employees have rights in regards to wages and to make a living and to pursue collective bargaining agreements," Kaiman said in an interview.

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County Executive Edward Mangano and the unions have been negotiating concessions. But, Kaiman said, "The nature of the negotiations that have taken place are not going to work financially as far as NIFA is concerned."

NIFA member Chris Wright said Kaiman did not include numbers in his proposal. "It is, and always and only will be, about how the numbers work," he said. "The numbers work if a proposal saves more than the wage freeze . . . They fail if they cost even a dollar more than the wage freeze saves."

A Mangano spokesman did not return a request for comment.

Union leaders met Wednesday to discuss Kaiman's memorandum. Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said the leaders "have requested a meeting with Kaiman to try to see what exactly this means."

NIFA imposed the freeze in March 2011 after declaring the county was in a state of fiscal emergency, with an estimated $176 million deficit.

Last month, Nassau's budget office predicted the county would close 2013 with a cash surplus even though NIFA continues to calculate a $100 million deficit. Unlike the county, the control board does not count revenue from borrowing or other one-time funding sources.

"Right now, my observation is that the system is cracking, in a sense," Kaiman said. "The county has fewer and fewer workers, which is part of the strategy, but there's a point where the few workers that remain have the burden of handling all the responsibilities of a much larger workforce and it actually costs money." He cited safety issues, more lawsuits, deteriorating infrastructure and overtime costs.

John Jaronczyk, president of the Correction Officers Benevolent Association, said 85 officers' salaries have been frozen at $30,000 for three years and 150 have been frozen at salaries of $45,000 or less.

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Carver said six officers from a police class that graduated in December are preparing to return to the New York City Police Department because their Nassau salaries are frozen at $34,000.Salaries of another 300 officers hired in 2007 and 2008 are /frozen at steps below $80,000.

More than 300 members of the Civil Service Employees Association have been stuck at "trainee" positions, said president Jerry Laricchiuta. We have members that may have to go on public assistance," Laricchiuta said.

Carver said, "We have been working with the goal to at least modify the wage freeze to get our members through the steps and some raises while litigation continues. So again, this memorandum does appear to have that same goal in mind, but it leaves questions that we need to sit down and go over."

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