An Appellate Division panel in Brooklyn unanimously upheld the validity of a 2011 agreement that guarantees Suffolk deputy sheriffs would patrol the Long Island Expressway and Sunrise Highway through 2017.
In a 4-0 decision the court rejected the claims of County Executive Steve Bellone and police unions that the agreement was not legitimate because the county legislature did not ratify the memorandum of agreement with the deputies.
Bellone, who won office with the help police unions, had claimed the last-minute agreement made by his predecessor Steve Levy, was illegal and returned county police to highway patrols shortly after his election in 2012. County police have patrolled those highways since then.
The appellate panel, however, upheld a lower court ruling that the 2011 agreement with deputies “was not procedurally improper” and its provisions were “valid and enforceable.” While county lawmaker never ratified the pact with deputies, they found the legislature did vote on an budget that included $4 million that deputies had agreed to defer in an arbitration award that included $8 million in retroactive pay. .
“The county legislature accepted the benefits of the 2011 MOA . . . with the knowledge of its terms in a manner clearly referable to the agreement,” the decision stated.
“The county arguments fell apart,” said John Becker, president of the 250-member deputies union, which has been without a contract since 2010. “Obviously we’re elated with the decision which shows we had a valid agreement all along and the county should not have violated. It.” Levy installed less deputies, who at top step make $63,000 less a year than police, to patrol the highways in 2008 to save money.
The county can still challenge the ruling but needs a waiver from the Court of Appeals, the state’s highest court, because the decision was unanimous. County Attorney Dennis Brown said the county is reviewing the decision to decide whether to appeal. PBA officials had no immediate comment.
If there is no appeal, both sides say the issue will go to binding arbitration. Becker said the county, which wasted money on legal costs, must make up for the economic losses union members have suffered by losing that highway work for the past five years
“We’re so far along, instead of having agencies ping-pong back and forth on the highways, it makes sense to negotiate the issue,” Becker said. ”But if they are not willing to do that, they can put us back on the highway and so be it.”
The county finally repaid the $4 million deferral that was due at the end of 2015 after the union filed a lawsuit in March. But Becker said the county has still failed to pay for raises, step increases and promotion that were part of the original bargain.
Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the county will meet with deputies within the next several days to try to resolve the issue. ”Fundamentally, the goal here is to negotiate a contract with deputies that is fair to them and county taxpayers,” he said.