A new contract reached this week between Suffolk County and its Police Benevolent Association, requiring new officers for the first time to contribute toward their health plans, could spur a similar deal in Nassau with its labor unions, according to lawmakers and budget experts.
For decades, Nassau and Suffolk police unions have shared comparable pay and benefits in their respective collective bargaining agreements, often due to arbitration.
Nassau lawmakers, struggling with a projected $45 million deficit in 2013 and under the financial control of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, hope Suffolk's deal inspires a change in their own county.
"This shows that anything can happen," said Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa). "I hope this inspires our county executive and police unions to continue to negotiate toward a deal to cut costs here in Nassau County, too."
Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport) said, "I think the historic agreement negotiated between [Suffolk] County Executive [Steve] Bellone and the unions provides a framework that all governments across Long Island can use to help bring costs down and provide relief to taxpayers."
Deputy County Executive Rob Walker said Nassau "was reviewing Suffolk's contract."
Suffolk's 10-year deal gives officers 1.5 percent annual pay increases beginning in mid-2013. In exchange, new officers will contribute up to 15 percent to their health insurance premiums, saving the county $17 million a year. The county's other nine employee unions also have agreed to have their new members pay toward their health care as well.
Jonathan Schneider, Suffolk's deputy county executive, said the agreement with police is the first in 20 years that didn't require arbitration. "It's easier for people to sort of strike a deal behind closed doors and let an arbitrator approve it and nobody has ownership of the process," he said.
Charles Brecher, a professor of administration at NYU's Wagner School of Public Service and a consultant to the Citizens Budget Commission, said Suffolk's contract "creates some precedent and pressure for the police in nearby areas, including Nassau County. When unions go to arbitration, the arbitrator usually looks at nearby areas for precedents."
Nassau police unions said they did not know how Suffolk's deal would affect their next contract, when the current one expires at the end of 2015.
"I can't predict how future negotiations will turn out," said Detectives Association president Glenn Ciccone, who added that 15 percent health insurance contributions were "a very large amount as a starting point."
Nassau Superior Officers Association president Brian Hoesl said County Executive Edward Mangano will certainly ask his members to contribute to their health insurance in 2016, but that "I don't want to speculate about what is going to happen three years down the road."
Nassau PBA president James Carver declined to comment on Suffolk's deal.
Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin said Suffolk's contracts expired at the end of 2010, while Nassau's deal, signed by former County Executive Thomas Suozzi, will not expire for 31/2 years.
"County Executive Mangano has cut over $240 million in labor expenses, including 1,776 positions, due to the failure of Nassau's unions to provide voluntary givebacks," Nevin said. "That being said, negotiations continue to achieve voluntary concessions for taxpayers."
A source close to the NIFA board said, "What has been accomplished in Suffolk is noteworthy and has the potential to change the discussions in Nassau . . . You have the Suffolk County executive who doesn't want to be under financial controls."
With Sid Cassese, Celeste Hadrick and Keith Herbert