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Officials: Judge's ruling may force Nassau layoffs

PBA president James Carver reacts to a decision

PBA president James Carver reacts to a decision by a US District court judge stating that the county executive cannot benefits or salaries without negotiations in Mineola. (Aug. 21, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano will be forced to lay off county employees to save millions in labor costs after a federal court judge ruled that a law allowing officials to reopen closed union contracts was unconstitutional, senior administration officials said Tuesday.

Mangano was counting on the savings from the law to help pay $41 million in tax refunds owed to homeowners. He now plans to achieve some of those savings through further staff reductions, said Mangano spokesman Brian Nevin.

"Rather than allow the county to cut certain perks, such as education pay, which does not require education, this court action leads to one option -- layoffs," Nevin said. He declined to elaborate on the timing or the number of layoffs that could be pending.

U.S. District Court Judge Arthur Spatt issued a preliminary injunction on Monday preventing Mangano from implementing aspects of the bill, including the modification of contracts, furloughing workers one day a week and cutting employee benefit contributions.

Mangano already announced plans in July to lay off at least 100 civil service workers by October. An additional 100 employees are expected to take retirement incentives and depart their jobs before the end of the year.

Civil Service Employees Association president Jerry Laricchiuta said additional layoffs would dismantle county services, "which are already at unacceptable levels. We don't have enough 911 operators, probation officers or social service workers. We pay some of the highest taxes in the country with the absolute worst services."

Laricchiuta said that CSEA has provided $132 million in labor concessions since 2008, but that Mangano cannot continue to attempt to balance Nassau's budget on the backs of union workers. The wages of all county employees have been frozen for more than a year.

Nassau, which is under the control of a state monitoring board, is projected to end the year with a $45 million deficit, said Comptroller George Maragos. In addition to layoffs, the legislature has approved fee increases for traffic fines, the transportation of accident victims by police helicopter and false alarms that bring police to a home or business.

Spatt's ruling kept intact other provisions of the law that do not affect collective bargaining agreements. The legislation also allows Mangano to sell county property, shutter programs or agencies -- as long as employees are not furloughed -- and reduce assistance to towns, cities and villages.

County Attorney John Ciampoli, who has yet to decide whether to appeal Spatt's ruling, said the preservation of those provisions is a "victory" because "most of the law was upheld by the court."

Critics disagreed.

"Instead of working on real solutions to fix the ongoing budget crisis, Ed Mangano again has wasted valuable taxpayer resources on another unsuccessful and costly legal battle," said Minority Leader Kevan Abrahams (D-Freeport).

At a news conference Tuesday morning, Police Benevolent Association president James Carver said Spatt's ruling would have implications nationwide. "This is a big win for unions, not just here, but across the country," he said.

Separately, the Sheriff's Correction Officers Benevolent Association is challenging the bill in State Supreme Court, arguing it was passed by the legislature in May without a quorum because Legis. Dennis Dunne (R-Levittown) voted from an adjoining room outside public view. Other bills passed that day, including one that allows the police commissioner to discipline PBA members, could also be invalidated, said association president John Jaronczyk.

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