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Laura Curran dispute with lawmakers stalls Nassau union talks

Legislative committee members have raised concerns about the county executive's plan to hire an outside labor attorney for union negotiations.

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, seen on March

Nassau County Executive Laura Curran, seen on March 28. Photo Credit: Newsday / Thomas A. Ferrara

A dispute between Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s administration and a legislative committee over the hiring of a prominent labor attorney has stalled contract negotiations with five unions representing nearly 7,000 county workers.

The county legislature's Rules Committee, which approves county contracts, in August tabled an administration request to pay up to $585,000 to Gary Dellaverson.

Republicans and Democrats on the committee raised concerns, primarily over flat-fee payments of up to $25,000 per month that Nassau would make to Dellaverson, as opposed to an hourly rate.

Union leaders eager to begin talks say the county already has adequate representation already. The county’s public employees have been working under the terms of contracts that expired Dec. 31.

But administration officials refuse to begin new talks without Dellaverson in place as their lead negotiator.

“The county executive is entitled to her own legal team in place. Negotiations with the unions will not move forward until she is able to put that team together,” said Curran spokesman Michael Martino.

“The county executive is committed to working with the unions in negotiating fair contracts for all of the working men and women, however, she will not allow the legislature to dictate who her legal counsel will be,” Martino said.

Legislative presiding officer Richard Nicolello (R-New Hyde Park) said the proposed contract with Dellaverson was “definitely outside the normal course of doing business.”

Nicolello, the Rules Committee chairman, said, “We have multiple concerns and the answers we were getting in committee were not satisfactory."

Curran, a Democrat who took office Jan. 1, has proposed a $3.075 billion budget for 2019 that calls for $31 million in new police spending and the hiring of about 100 employees to boost staffing levels in the property assessment office.

Ninety percent of county workers are union members.

About 6,700 county employees — from police officers to data clerks to hospital staff — are members of Nassau’s five largest unions: the Civil Service Employees Association, Police Benevolent Association, Superior Officers Association, Correction Officers Benevolent Association and the Detectives Association.

At an Aug. 6 meeting, officials from the county attorney’s office and other Curran administration officials urged Rules Committee members to swiftly approve two service contracts for negotiators.

Legislators approved the county’s request to hire the Melville law firm Lamb & Barnosky, LLP, at an hourly rate of $250 for partners and $205 for associates.

Administration officials said they needed a contract with Dellaverson to serve as the “at-the-table” negotiator on behalf of the county during labor talks.

Dellaverson, 64, of Westchester County, served as chief financial officer of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, and brokered a $1 billion deal to redevelop Hudson Yards on Manhattan's West Side in 2008. Dellaverson retired in 2010 after 19 years with the authority, and later joined the Manhattan law firm Proskauer Rose, LLP.

County union leaders say they are frustrated by the delays in talks.

“It is irresponsible for the county to be looking to hire a chief contract negotiator nine months after the expiration of all labor contracts,” said Jerry Laricchiuta, president of Civil Service Employees Association Local 830.

“It’s news to me that our contract negotiations are being held up for this reason,” said Brian Sullivan, correction union president. “I assumed I was going into contract negotiations with Lamb & Barnosky. How many law firms do we need to hire?”

Sullivan said it was “pretty telling” that no contractual raises were included in Curran’s 2019 budget proposal. “We haven’t done one substantive bargaining meeting and we are going into a second year where nothing is being worked into the budget,” he said.

PBA President James McDermott said the dispute over attorney hiring “is not really our problem. It’s a county executive and legislative matter. . . . They have attorneys, why are we not going forward?”

Nicolello has said the administration’s request to hire Dellaverson will remain tabled, but he is willing to discuss other options and an hourly fee structure. The Rules Committee meets again on Wednesday.

“We want this attorney to be paid the way the other attorneys are paid,” Nicolello said.  

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