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NIFA extends Nassau wage freeze but offers way out

Nassau County workers rally outside the Uniondale Marriott

Nassau County workers rally outside the Uniondale Marriott on March 10, 2014. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau's financial control board Monday night extended a three-year wage freeze for county employees but outlined conditions the county and unions could meet to lift the freeze, possibly before the end of this month.

The conditions include County Executive Edward Mangano dedicating $129 million in new revenue from speed cameras, mortgage recording fees and sales taxes to pay for increased salaries if union contract concessions do not generate the expected savings.

County unions could continue their state lawsuits challenging the legality of the freeze but would agree to give up the compounding effect of lost salary increases in 2011, 2012 and 2013 -- even if they win. They also would agree not to sue over the deal in 2014-2017.

If unions win their lawsuits, members would be entitled to retroactive pay lost in 2011, 2012 and 2013. But renewed salary increases and pay steps would begin from a 2010 base.

The 7 to 8 percent in lost raises, if the unions win the lawsuit, would be added to salaries as soon as the litigation is settled.As more than a thousand union members gathered outside the site of the meeting at the Marriott Uniondale, four members of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority voted for the pact, and two voted against.

"Nobody gets everything they want but it does get the money flowing again and it does protect the county from hundreds of millions of dollars in risk," said NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman.

NIFA member Chris Wright said he voted no because he believes the deal will cost double the $129 million estimated. Dermond Thomas said he opposed the deal because he disagreed with extending the freeze for another year, saying that was too long.

Jerry Laricchiuta, head of the Civil Service Employees Association, said he was disappointed "we are frozen again, but I am somewhat relieved that this board has opened the door to give the unions a fair chance at lifting the wage freeze, which has caused so much pain and suffering."

John Jaronczyk, head of the Nassau County Sheriff's Correction Officers Benevolent Association, said, "it's not good because we're still frozen. We'll do everything we can to get a deal for our membership."

James Carver, head of the Police Benevolent Association, said the deal "should present a very optimistic outlook for all county employees. Although we never felt we should have had our wages frozen, this allows us to lift the wage freeze prospectively."

NIFA, a state oversight board, imposed a wage freeze in March 2011 at Mangano's request to help the deficit-ridden county save money. Financial experts say that through 2013 the county saved $230 million. If the freeze continues through 2014, the legislature's office of budget review projects Nassau would save about $420 million.

Kaiman, Mangano and leaders of the county's five major unions have been negotiating for weeks after Kaiman put out a memo giving the parameters of a deal that the control board would consider. Those negotiations continued through the weekend and details were still being finalized Monday.

Leaders of the CSEA, the Police Benevolent Association, and the Nassau Detectives Association have agreed tentatively to the terms. The Superior Officers Association and the correction officers union are still negotiating.

County officials hoped the deal would allow Nassau to hire a new police class before the existing civil service list expires at the end of the month. Under the deal, new county employees would have to pay toward their health insurance and pension costs. Kaiman said other concessions, including new salary schedules, also would save millions of dollars.

Union members would have to ratify the agreement, the county legislature would have to approve it and Mangano would have to sign it. NIFA would have to approve each union's deal before lifting the freeze. A Mangano spokesman did not immediately return a call for comment.

Outside the Marriott Monday, union members chanted "No more freeze" and "Enough is enough," as a Nassau police helicopter hovered overhead. Many carried signs. One read: "I am frozen at $25,000. Could you afford to feed your family on that?"

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