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Long IslandColumnistsJoye Brown

NIFA moves to slow consideration of union wage deals

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano speaks during a

Nassau County Executive Ed Mangano speaks during a press conference in Bethpage Tuesday, March 18, 2014. Credit: Barry Sloan

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority is asking the county to slow down its consideration of four employee union deals that would lift a three-year wage freeze.

"We want to get this right," NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman said in an interview Monday. "We want to do our due diligence."

That's as it should be.

The Nassau County Legislature and NIFA had scheduled meetings for March 31 to consider -- and presumably pass -- the deals for police, detectives, superior officers and civil service employees.

The agreements would provide a series of raises totaling more than 13 percent, giving some employees six different increases by September 2015, including step raises.

NIFA's request to slow down has little to do with the proposed raises.

Instead, NIFA, as County Executive Edward Mangano acknowledged in an interview, wants to be certain that language in the agreements says what NIFA, the unions and the county intend it to say.

One key sticking point:

The agreements would require that new employees go to a Tier 6 pension level that would require increased employee contributions. But pension levels are not supposed to be part of the collective bargaining process.

That could throw NIFA and Nassau's calculated savings from the increased pension contributions out of whack. However, neither NIFA nor the county has provided detailed fiscal analyses of the deals.

Another issue is language on pending litigation against NIFA and Nassau over a three-year-old wage freeze. The unions want to preserve their right to sue; Kaiman had sought concessions including an agreement not to seek worker pay that was frozen in 2011, 2012 and 2013.

The problem, Kaiman said, is that should Nassau lose the wage-freeze case on appeal, the county could be liable for some $900 million that could be due some 7,000 employees in lost wages and step increases, which are contractual raises based on length of service.

Kaiman also said that NIFA, which had newly hired labor counsel looking over the agreements yesterday, likely would have to look at portions of existing contracts that would remain in effect along with the proposed agreements.

Those include no-layoff, and so called "me-too" clauses, in which a better deal for one union would be applied to all. That could make it difficult for the county to change course in managing its largest expense -- employee compensation -- if anticipated revenue to fund the increases somehow failed to materialize.

"We are digging down on what we need, to get the right answers," Kaiman said, adding that the process likely would take long enough to delay NIFA's scheduled March 31 meeting.

Mangano was more optimistic.

He said NIFA's requests amounted to language changes that would leave most of the proposed agreements intact. "We're putting in a . . . belt and suspenders," he said. "We are working to give them what they need."

Nassau had wanted a deal by March 31 so it could hire a new, and lower paid, class of police recruits from a police exam list that is set to expire that day.

Should talks between NIFA, Nassau and employee unions extend beyond that time, Nassau could go ask a judge for permission to use the expired test.

Mangano acknowledged, however, that the talks could push legislative and NIFA action on the proposals into April.

"If it goes a few days beyond, it goes a few days beyond," he said.

"But we still have March 31 in our sights. "

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