Even as former County Executive Thomas Suozzi was touting that he had cut Nassau's workforce to the lowest level in decades, his administration was hiring hundreds of temporary workers and paying some of them less than the county's required "living wage," county officials said Tuesday.
In an audit to be released Wednesday, Republican Comptroller George Maragos found that Nassau paid more than $2.3 million since 2007 for temporary workers in five departments, including assessment and social services. More than 100 of those workers were shortchanged by a few dollars or cents in their hourly wage, adding up to a total underpayment of $105,000 from 2007 through 2008, he said.
Although the temporary agency, Island Search Group of Woodbury, received a waiver from the living wage law in 2009, Maragos found the underpayments occurred before the waiver. The 2005 living wage law passed by the county legislature required county contractors to pay employees $11 an hour in 2007 and $12.05 an hour in 2008.
Island Search president Illene Glasser could not be reached for comment. The firm's attorney, in a written response to the comptroller's office, contended the company "has at all times been in compliance" with the law.
Since at least 2007, Suozzi, a Democrat, contended in budget messages and speeches that he had cut Nassau's workforce to the smallest level in 30 years.
"It's all a myth," said Presiding Officer Peter Schmitt (R-Massapequa). "There were no cutbacks. He just outsourced a lot of these jobs."
Suozzi, who is a consultant for Cablevision, which owns Newsday, declined to comment. His spokesman, Bruce Nyman, responded that Suozzi "balanced every budget he administered," reduced the county portion of the overall tax bill, froze taxes for six out of the last eight years, received 13 credit rating upgrades, and "the county finances were rated stable as recently as last November. His record speaks for itself."
Schmitt said he learned about the temporary workers about a month ago and asked Maragos to investigate. Maragos acknowledged Schmitt's request, but a spokesman noted the comptroller already had been reviewing all contracts from the previous administration.
Four of five contracts with Island Search did not go to the county legislature, Schmitt noted, despite a 1997 law that lawmakers must approve all contracts of more than $100,000.
The Suozzi administration maintained that legislative approval was not required for purchases or services through the state; Island Search was selected from a state contract.
"This was a way of deceiving the public and getting around the oversight of . . . the legislature," Schmitt said.
Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Civil Service Employees Association, said he had filed still-pending grievances over the use of temporary workers.