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Court clears way for 30 guards' layoffs

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in Bethpage. (June

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone in Bethpage. (June 1, 2012) Credit: Howard Schnapp

A state Supreme Court justice cleared the way Monday for Suffolk County to lay off 30 security guards, but officials said the jobs will not be axed immediately if their union agrees to an expedited binding arbitration.

Justice Jeffrey Spinner lifted a temporary restraining order that had blocked the layoffs for the last three weeks, after two days of arguments in his Riverhead courtroom.

But the ruling only moves the battle to a state arbitrator to decide whether the county is breaking the union contract by improperly giving the work of laid-off guards to a private contractor or whether the union filed its appeal to a state arbitrator too late.

Jon Schneider, deputy county executive, said county attorneys were reaching out to the union to give guards another reprieve, if the union agrees to a speedy process. "We believe everything can be resolved within 60 days," he said. "Quite frankly, we are not looking to act hastily, but looking to get clarity and save the taxpayers money. That's what's driving the bus."

"That's acceptable to us," said Dan Farrell, new president of the Association of Municipal Employees. "All we ever wanted out of the whole thing was to get the issue before an arbitrator to decide whether they can put replacement private workers into jobs that were exclusively ours." The union had said the county would have to pay guards back wages if the union wins.

Schneider said the county's "first issue" is the union did not seek arbitration until July 9, well past the June 19 deadline. The union maintains it first applied for arbitration May 29.

Bellone, facing a potential budget shortfall of $300 million, had included the guards, many stationed at county welfare centers, among layoffs of 230 other county workers, claiming a private security firm could do the work, saving $1 million of the $2.1 million annual cost of the service.

The union maintains Bellone violated the union contract, which stipulates the county cannot privatize the union jobs without giving the union notice and a chance to respond with an alternative. The union also has questioned the savings, noting the outside firm asked for more money when told of the added responsibilities of guarding welfare centers. Schneider said the county subsequently issued a new request for proposals and the savings remain the same.

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