Suffolk union asks court to stop layoffs

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone gives his first

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone gives his first State of the County address in Hauppauge. (April 18, 2012) (Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas)

Suffolk's largest labor union is going to court to stop County Executive Steve Bellone from laying off 30 security guards next week and replacing them with a private firm.

The 8,500-member Association of Municipal Employees on Friday filed an injunction request in state Supreme Court. It alleges the county is violating a contract provision prohibiting replacement of association members with nonunion workers.

"We believe the county, in the collective bargaining agreement, has agreed not to lay off those workers as a result of privatization," Cheryl Felice, the union's outgoing president, said Monday. "We're still hoping they will reconsider."

Bellone administration officials deny violating the contract, but declined to comment further due to the pending litigation. They've defended their attempt to save money by privatizing guards -- most of whom work at the county's busy social service centers.

"We wouldn't put this forward if we thought it was in violation," Ben Zwirn, a Bellone aide, told lawmakers who protested the move last week.

The county is still mulling bids for a new private security contract. Officials estimate potential annual savings of $600,000.

In its injunction filing, the union suggests the county can match the savings by not replacing three or four guards who may soon retire, cutting back on overtime and reducing uniform and equipment allowances.

On June 30, Suffolk will lay off about 260 employees, including the guards. Bellone has said savings from those cuts, which were assumed in this year's budget, do not address the county's $530-million deficit projection through 2013.

Many of the workers set to lose their jobs June 30 are expected Tuesday to make one last plea to lawmakers. The legislature meeting in Riverhead is the last before layoffs go into effect, and the last until August.

But no job-saving measures are on the agenda that includes a bill to finalize new legislative district maps and one to ban smoking at county parks and beaches. The ban, which carries no fines for violators, excludes golf courses and camp sites.

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