Top Nassau elected officials are pressing forward with an untested plan to order concessions from county unions despite existing labor contracts - a proposal labeled by a leading union leader as "the most anti-labor move ever" when it was introduced last fall.
Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano, Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt and County Comptroller George Maragos are expected to announce Thursday that the county legislature will hold hearings on the controversial "Taxpayer Relief Act."
Mangano proposed the act last fall when he was seeking $61 million in union savings. He contends it would allow him to open up existing union contracts and order concessions so long as the county legislature votes him that authority - a strategy doubted by outside experts and branded as unconstitutional by labor leaders.
Schmitt pulled the measure before it came to a vote, saying he wanted to give Mangano more time to negotiate, and proposed an alternative $61 million in budget savings for this year.
Thursday's planned announcement by the Republican elected officials comes a week before a state oversight board's deadline for Nassau to prove that its $2.6-billion budget is balanced. If the county runs a 1 percent deficit, the Nassau Interim Finance Authority can take control of the county's finances and freeze union contracts.
With a takeover looming, Police Benevolent Association president James Carver has said his members will make no further givebacks this year without NIFA approval. Gary Learned, president of the Superior Officers Association, agreed.
Mangano and Schmitt cited those comments as the reason they are pressing forward with the controversial law.
"I've been clear," Mangano said. "If the voluntary negotiations are not going forward, the legislature would need to pass the act."
He said this year's budget is balanced, but labor concessions are needed in 2012 and beyond. If those savings are not realized, he promised layoffs next year.
Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, said, "I have a deal ready to go. I would ink it tomorrow if they could tell me that NIFA would stay out of here."
Carver said Wednesday that Mangano "should be focusing on the 2011 budget and making sure it passes NIFA's test [rather] than worrying about the 2012 budget."
Schmitt said the committee hearings will determine the contract costs. "If that means acting on the taxpayer relief act, I will put it on for action," he said.
Schmitt had pulled the proposal after an Oct. 6 public hearing at which Carver called the measure "the most anti-labor move ever." Learned said he had been contacted by union leaders across the nation wanting to fight it.
Now, Republicans would have to pass a law guaranteed to anger the politically powerful unions in a re-election year.
Schmitt insisted he wasn't playing chicken with the unions.
"Name one of my legislators who needed police union support to win election," Schmitt said. "Who runs this county, the elected officials or the unions?"