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Suffolk security guards make plea for jobs

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone gives his first

Suffolk County Executive Steve Bellone gives his first State of the County address in Hauppauge. (April 18, 2012) Credit: Newsday/John Paraskevas

Louis Re, a Suffolk County Department of Social Services security guard, says he has been punched, kicked, bitten and spit on while working.

But none of that compared to the sting of learning last week he was being laid off from his job of 19 years, Re told legislators Monday at a Human Services Committee meeting.

Re, 47, of Middle Island, is one of 30 county security guards set to lose their jobs in June in 315 layoffs approved by the legislature last week to save the county $35 million through 2013. He and other security guards implored legislators to reconsider the cuts.

"I opened my bottle of blood pressure medication and cracked the pills in half, because I'm afraid I'm not going to be able to afford health care coverage," Re said.

Though County Executive Steve Bellone restored 124 jobs from an initial list of 467 cuts compiled last year by predecessor Steve Levy, 21 social service guards and nine from the public works department weren't spared.

Social services guards argued that the cost savings attached to their jobs would be minimal, because up to 62 percent of their salaries are subsidized by state and federal grants. The subsidies do not apply to the public works positions.

Suffolk officials said they determined that it would be more cost-effective to contract out all the county security positions rather than do it piecemeal.

"We did analyze the funding that's associated with some of the positions," said Bellone's spokeswoman, Vanessa Baird-Streeter. "The final analysis concluded that Suffolk County taxpayers would save money by privatizing security."

Frank S. Casiglia, executive vice president of the Association of Municipal Employees, the union representing the guards, called elimination of their positions a violation of the union's contract with the county. Casiglia said union attorneys are "reviewing taking legal action."

But Casiglia said the social services cuts would only save $180,000 next year. "You're going to have people going into foreclosure, unable to afford health care, to save what the county spends on lunch for the year," he said.

Majority Leader DuWayne Gregory (D-Amityville), who chairs the human services committee, said it was his understanding that the contractor will be required to first hire the former county guards. Chris Forman, a guard for nine years, said they would likely balk at the offer, because private security firms pay less than the county.

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