Differing on their means to an end
Big helpings of posture and spin often accompany labor talks.
Hints of progress sometimes come right before breakdowns. Bitter accusations can come just before an agreement.
But in Nassau County, more than two weeks after the fact, the dismissal of 260-plus employees remains the subject of sharply divergent accounts between the office of Executive Edward Mangano and leaders of the affected union, the Civil Service Employees Association.
While a resolution of sorts was already reached, in the form of layoffs, the sides remain far apart on what led up to it.
For the Mangano administration, spokesman Brian Nevin says, "The savings achieved through layoffs were the equivalent of employees contributing 25 percent toward their health insurance. Unfortunately, contributing to health insurance was summarily dismissed by the union."
Officials of CSEA Local 830, representing about 4,800 Nassau employees, give a different narrative. Jerry Laricchiuta, the local's president, says the administration had really presented him with two options. One was for the union to take "a 20 percent across-the-board pay cut, and a 25 percent contribution for all current members' health care, and wages frozen through 2015-16." The other option, he says, was layoffs.
Laricchiuta insists the scope of the givebacks made this package impossible to consider. It meant someone making $40,000 per year would be reduced to $32,000 and pay thousands of dollars for medical insurance, he says.
"My membership would not vote for it, and I wouldn't bring it to them," he says.
Both sides seem to agree on a critical number -- that CSEA's share of concessions was to total $61 million. That's what the layoffs will save when combined with previously agreed items such as early employee buyouts, Nevin says.
Laricchiuta & Co., however, argue Nevin's numbers do not add up to what they were facing.
They put it this way: If every full-time county employee in CSEA had a family health insurance plan costing $18,000 per year, and paid 25 percent of the premium, it would cost each employee $4,500 per year. Multiplied by 4,800 employees, the savings to the county would come to $21.6 million. And, noted CSEA spokesman Ryan Mulholland, the real total would be less because some employees have less-expensive individual, rather than family, coverage.
The rest of the $61 million would have to have come from cutting and freezing wages, as CSEA presents it.
Nevin argues the contribution would have been made before taxes, averaging $3,000 per year per employee, the same as for state workers -- and would have saved the county the necessary funds while "saving their colleagues' jobs."
Some context: An obvious target for budget-strapped elected officials throughout the state is workforce health plans that exceed what's customary in the private sector.
In October, for example, Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino declared: "Westchester's union employees have to start paying for their health insurance just like everyone else." If not, there would be layoffs, he said. There were 27 layoffs, on New Year's Day, officials of that county say. More than 200 had been slated for dismissal before savings were reportedly budgeted through other measures.
When the Cuomo administration averted CSEA layoffs last fall, one of the union's concessions involved raising the share of health premiums already paid by the state employees.
Health costs remain huge on bargaining tables everywhere. How they will play out in Nassau in the future remains shrouded in the county's fiscal thicket.