An arbitrator has ruled that Suffolk's Association of Municipal Employees did challenge the firing of county security guards within proper time limits.
The ruling means there will be further hearings on whether the county violated the union contract by trying to replace county workers with employees of a private firm.
Arbitrator Mark Grossman informed the parties of his decision via email late Monday. The decision followed two days of hearings earlier this month. The county had claimed the union did not file its grievance within the 44 days allowed under the contract.
"I'm extremely pleased, but the battle is only half over," said Dan Farrell, AME president. "Now that we've gotten past the timeliness issue, we've got to get [to] the issue of whether the county can privatize our work." He urged the county to make a settlement that will "avoid spending tens of thousand of dollars in wasteful legal fees."
The union originally got a court order to block the firings. The order was later lifted, though the judge referred the grievance issue to an arbitrator. The county put the firings on hold on the condition that hearings took place within 60 days.
Paul Margiotta, director of county labor relations, said officials have not decided whether to lay off remaining guards while further hearings proceed.
Originally, about 20 guards worked at social services centers, Social Services officials said. In recent weeks, eight guards were hired by Suffolk Community College and another retired.
Last week, the department began using several guards from Dreamland Security services, though officials could not say how many had begun work.