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State legislators back Nassau’s union contractual step increases

Nassau’s unions have won a major battle in a fight to prevent the county’s financial control board from imposing a top-to-bottom wage freeze as it did in 2011.

The State Senate and Assembly unanimously approved legislation this week that would allow union employees to continue to receive contractual step increases — salary hikes based on time on the job — even during a wage freeze.

The bill still must be signed by Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo. His office did not respond to a request for comment.

The legislation was pushed by Nassau’s police unions and the Civil Service Employees Association. It was opposed by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority, a state board that declared a financial emergency in March 2011, took control of the county’s finances and imposed a wage freeze that was not lifted until April 2014 for most employees.

NIFA Chairman Adam Barsky wrote lawmakers that exempting step increases from a freeze would have a “potentially detrimental effect on the ability of NIFA to perform its mission of returning the county to fiscal health.”

But county labor leaders contend their members already have contributed hundreds of millions in savings and NIFA should find a different way to close a county budget deficit estimated as high as $170 million next year.

The wage freeze was estimated to save $230 million through the end of 2013. The savings have not been updated since then.

CSEA president Jerry Laricchiuta estimated the county saved a half-billion dollars because of labor concessions. Yet, he said, “Nothing’s changed. Taxes didn’t go down. The deficit is still there.”

Both he and Pete Paterson, vice president of the Nassau Police Benevolent Association, said the bill would correct the worst impact of the freeze: holding new hires at low starting salaries for years.

Police officers start at $34,000 a year, while some CSEA employees begin at $22,000. Salaries frozen at those levels meant “people’s houses were being foreclosed; they had to give up cars; some people just quit,” Laricchiuta said.

The approved legislation says that if NIFA approves a four-year financial plan, which the board does annually, step increases will continue even if NIFA should impose a wage freeze during those four years.

“While we still completely disagree with the wage freeze and feel it was illegal, we do feel it should only be instituted under complete emergencies. This forces the county to make other decisions that it would not have had to make,” said Paterson, who walked the bill through legislative offices this week.

NIFA had no comment.

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