Former Suffolk County Executive Steve Levy and a nonprofit legal group on Wednesday announced a lawsuit to stop Suffolk County from paying salaries of union officials when they’re out conducting union business.
The lawsuit says the county spends $3 million a year on salaries for public employees while they’re on leave from their regular jobs.
The lawsuit says those payments, guaranteed in collective bargaining agreements, violate a provision in the state constitution against providing “gifts or loans” to private corporations or individuals.
“We don’t begrudge the union from having representation to do their lobbying for more benefits and wages, but we think that should be paid for by union dues, not by the taxpayers,” said Levy, a Republican.
Noel DiGerolamo, president of the Suffolk County PBA, called it a “frivolous lawsuit.”
“Release time is legitimate through the collective bargaining process so we can service our members,” he said. “There’s a benefit to the public as well. Maintaining a working relationship between management and labor is essential to providing adequate services in every department in the county.”
The lawsuit was filed on behalf of Suffolk resident Kenneth Greenberg, of Mount Sinai, by the Government Justice Center Inc., a nonprofit started last month. The lawsuit does not seek any legal fees or back payments.
A similar lawsuit has been filed against the Syracuse school district and another is planned to be filed against New York State, said Cameron MacDonald, co-counsel for the plaintiffs.
“It’s fundamentally unfair when the taxpayer funds the union to fight against the taxpayer,” said Laurann Pandelakis, of Manhasset, a member of Long Islanders for Educational Reform, who attended the news conference in Central Islip. Jason Elan, a spokesman for County Executive Steve Bellone, said Levy was trying to “re-enter politics.”
Levy did not seek re-election in 2011 and agreed to turn over his nearly $4 million campaign war chest amid a Suffolk district attorney probe of his political fundraising.
“Instead of filing frivolous lawsuits in a clear attempt to re-enter politics, Steve Levy should explain why he was forced out of office in the first place and finally come clean with the public as to what were the circumstances that led him to turn over $4 million in campaign funds to the district attorney,” Elan said.
Levy said he understood why the unions would oppose the suit, but said Bellone should support it since it could save the county millions of dollars.
“I’m not running for office,” said Levy, head of the Center for Cost Effective Government and an attorney at Campolo, Middleton and McCormick in Ronkonkoma. He said he will address why he didn’t run for re-election and turned over his campaign money in the future. “There will be a time.”