A deal to allow Suffolk County to lease the John J. Foley Skilled Nursing Facility to private operators was thrown into doubt Tuesday after union leaders canceled a crucial vote on the plan.
The 180 Foley employees represented by the Association of Municipal Employees had been scheduled to vote Tuesday on a proposal to drop the union's lawsuit against County Executive Steve Bellone. The suit seeks to stop the $23 million sale of the Yaphank nursing home to private operators Israel and Samuel Sherman.
The proposal to drop the suit is part of a deal in which the Shermans would guarantee employees their positions and benefits for 18 months in exchange for the ability to lease the 264-bed facility.
But some Foley workers indicated there may not have been enough votes to pass the measure. A majority vote was necessary.
Mary Fredette, a nurse for 22 years at the facility, said about 100 nurses at Foley agreed Friday to vote against the measure. Members were concerned about issues including employee benefits and union representation once the facility was in private hands.
"We wouldn't have been county employees anymore and there were other discrepancies that people were concerned about," Fredette said.
Maintenance worker Pete Mastando, one of six at Foley, said most in his group "were heading to a 'no' direction," because of questions about retirement plans and benefits.
AME president Dan Farrell said the decision to cancel the vote came Monday after two other plaintiffs in the lawsuit, Legis. Kate Browning (WF-Shirley) and Legis. John M. Kennedy Jr. (R-Nesconset), refused to sign an agreement to drop the court fight.
"At this point, we don't have a deal to vote on if everyone hasn't signed off," Farrell said.
Browning called Farrell's explanation "absolutely ridiculous." She said she emailed the union on Monday to say she would base her decision about the lawsuit on the outcome of the union vote.
"I have made it very clear that I would abide by the membership vote," Browning said.
Kennedy called Farrell's claims a "total misrepresentation." Kennedy said he had told Farrell that "I would respect what the membership expressed."
Bellone said he was in discussions with union leaders and legislators to determine how to proceed. But he said that if a lease deal isn't approved, county plans to close the facility would move ahead.
"There are only two outcomes," Bellone said. "Either the facility is going to remain on a closure path or we're going to do a lease of the facility."
The proposed deal is the latest effort by the county to unload the facility. Suffolk, which is facing a $250 million budget deficit through the end of 2014, spends $12 million annually to subsidize the home for elderly and special needs residents.
Mike Balboni, a spokesman for the Shermans, said they would await the outcome of Bellone's discussion with legislators and union leaders but that the operators remained "committed" to the deal.