More than 2,000 union members from across Long Island and throughout New York State converged on Mineola Monday to protest legislation that would allow Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano to cut wages and benefits by unilaterally revising union contracts.
A crowd -- estimated by Nassau Police at more than 2,000 people, and at between 3,000 and 5,000 by organizers -- participated in the raucous protest, arguing that Mangano's bill, introduced in the county legislature, was unconstitutional and would hurt workers and their families.
Union members, some of whose speeches were laced with profanities, chanted for economic equality and carried signs with images of the Constitution on fire next to a picture of Mangano.
"This county executive is disregarding the law of the land," said Nassau Police Benevolent Association president James Carver. "And we will fight him with the last drop of blood from union workers."
Mangano says his bill, the Fiscal Crisis Reform Act, is constitutional and necessary to close a projected $310-million deficit for 2012. He cited statistics that claim the average county member of the Civil Service Employees Association makes nearly $72,000 per year, including salary and extra pay, while PBA members take in nearly $138,000 annually.
"Rather than waste members' dues on T-shirts and juvenile signs, union leaders would serve their members responsibly by getting their butts to the negotiation table," Mangano said in a statement. "The fact remains if union bosses fail to negotiate, more of their members will lose their jobs or will be furloughed."
Labor officials say they will seek a court injunction to block the bill if the Republican-controlled county Legislature passes it.
Nick LaMorte, Long Island regional president of the CSEA, said his members also are prepared to take sleeping bags and move into the Theodore Roosevelt Executive and Legislative Building -- as protesters did in Wisconsin to protest a GOP plan to end collective bargaining for public employees.
"We will take over the county building until we get what we want," LaMorte said.
Several speakers noted that the legislation would set a national precedent. "They started this war in Wisconsin," said New York City PBA president Pat Lynch. "They practiced in New Jersey and now they've come here," he said of New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie's battles with public unions.
Mangano, who says he won't raise property taxes, said of the possibility of a sit-in: "If it means protecting residents from a property tax hike, they're more than welcome."
Some county workers said at the rally that Mangano's proposal would result in wage and benefits cuts that would harm their families.