More than 300 Suffolk County workers will be laid off this summer under a hotly contested plan approved by lawmakers Tuesday.
Union members jeered when the legislature's Democratic majority rejected Republicans' call for more time to offer job-saving alternatives. An emergency resolution altering the county's July 1 layoff list -- restoring 149 positions, but still cutting a net of 315 -- passed by a 12-5 party line vote, with Legis. Edward Romaine (R-Center Moriches) abstaining due to a relative's potential job loss.
"We were able to make this list make sense," said Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), framing the action as a "restoration plan" that spares critical, grant-funded jobs that would have been lost under a list developed by former County Executive Steve Levy. "That's no consolation to the 315, but we are saving jobs."
The legislature funded 464 of the positions for only six months, giving new County Executive Steve Bellone time to save them. But in March, an independent panel projected that Suffolk faces a $530 million deficit through 2013, even after axing the six-month jobs.
Bellone then worked to revise the list, restoring fully grant-funded jobs, many in social services, and removing others to meet the same $11.4 million in 2012 savings and $24 million in 2013. His aides said revisions had to be approved Tuesday to allow layoff notices to be mailed by next week, and ensure the county could sell short-term revenue notes to make its next payroll.
"Today's vote restores the maximum number of positions possible, while still protecting the taxpayers of Suffolk County," Bellone said.
But GOP lawmakers and leaders of Suffolk's largest union, the Association of Municipal Employees, insist not enough was done to avoid any job cuts. Minority Leader John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset) supported a bill offering AME employees an early retirement incentive similar to one received by police unions that averted 38 officer layoffs.
Kennedy appealed unsuccessfully for two weeks to determine how many eligible AME members would accept. Legis. Thomas Barraga (R-West Islip) drew applause by suggesting Suffolk could borrow to keep employees through December. "When things go bad, it's the public sector providing the services to people," Barraga said.
About 20 county workers spoke out against layoffs. Some protested cutting public health nurses; one woman held her infant daughter in front of lawmakers, saying she had wanted to tape a sign to her reading, "Don't lay off Mommy," but was deterred by security.
"To use layoffs as the first tool is wrong," said Dan Farrell, AME's president-elect.
Bellone aides said the union hadn't offered specific job-saving concessions. Deputy County Executive Jon Schneider said the administration's "door remains open" for unions, but wouldn't commit to whether concessions could prevent some of the layoffs in July or help avoid future cuts
Greg Layman, a public works vector control employee, chided the administration for layoffs he said would only be a "drop in the bucket" of Suffolk's $530 million deficit.
"You can't keep taking from the workers," he said. "We didn't cause this problem."
But Democrats emphasized that their action averted more pain. Legis. Lou D'Amaro (D-North Babylon) noted Barraga's statement that he wanted to "tear up" the new layoff list.
"I would never rip up the list, because it has less people on it than the alternative," D'Amaro said.Under civil service rules, senior union employees on the layoff list will now have opportunity to be demoted and bump out lower-ranking colleagues, leaving the possibility that the final number of job cuts could be higher than 315 -- though savings would remain the same.
To ease the transition for departing workers, Bellone said his labor department will launch a pilot program that provides them with job search assistance, counseling and resume preparation training.