Islip has spent $15,000 defending the town's attempt to revoke some employees' take-home vehicle privileges and will spend almost as much to file a second appeal next week, a move blasted as futile by the union involved and a Republican town board member.
The town said Friday that it would file an appeal before the State Supreme Court, at an estimated cost of $12,000, labor relations director Rob Finnegan said. That comes after the town lost an appeal to the Public Employees Relations Board last month.
In March 2010, an administrative law judge ruled Supervisor Phil Nolan's order to dozens of workers to give up town-owned take-home vehicles in 2008, without negotiating with the union, violated state labor law.
Legal experts say there's well-established case law that could make it difficult for the town to prevail. Mimi Satter, a Syracuse attorney who has represented unions in such actions, said suing in state court requires the town to show PERB's decision "was not based on substantial evidence -- that's a tough test. With each subsequent appeal the grounds for reversal become narrower and the likelihood of success becomes smaller."
Cornell University law professor Angela Cornell said, "It doesn't matter how noble the goal or the severe economic strain a town may face . . . In this case, the town unilaterally changed a long-standing practice and that's unlawful."
Councilwoman Trish Bergin Weichbrodt on Friday criticized the second appeal bid, calling on Nolan to negotiate a settlement.
Nolan remained defiant, and said trimming the fleet had saved the town hundreds of thousands of dollars. "I am trying to protect the taxpayers. Councilwoman Bergin has to decide whether she's going to be on the side of the taxpayers or the side of special interests," said Nolan, who is running for re-election in November.
While Bergin was not on the town board when it amended its take-home car policy in April 2008, the vote was unanimously in favor, including Bergin's current board colleague, Steve Flotteron, then the sole Republican board member, who seconded Nolan's motion.
John Burns, Long Island director of Teamsters Local 237, which represents the affected workers, likened the situation to Wisconsin's moves to remove workers' legal rights. "Both Phil Nolan and the Republicans have acted in concert to try to remove our members' lawful collective bargaining power. We remain available to sit down and resolve this issue without further expenditure by the town."