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OpinionColumnistsLane Filler

Power struggle behind the scenes of PBA contract negotiations

Nassau PBA President James McDermott in April.

Nassau PBA President James McDermott in April. Credit: Howard Schnapp

Last month, when Nassau County PBA members voted down a new deal by 143 votes in a move that shocked seemingly every involved faction, it became clear that the politics surrounding a new PBA deal are as complex as the contract itself.

The old contract expired on the final day of 2017, along with all the county’s labor deals.

The new contract was negotiated by the 1,594-member PBA, the county and NIFA as a continuation of the "pattern" established by recently ratified deals for the detectives and for the superior officers. The membership of the detectives’ and superior officers’ unions approved their deals by broad margins. So what’s going on with the PBA?

Although hardly anyone is willing to be quoted, former and current PBA officials, county officials and NIFA officials describe a union too besieged and divided by internal and external politics to act in its own self-interest.

PBA President James McDermott, facing reelection at the end of 2021 if he doesn’t retire, fought hard to pass the deal. It provided members 15% raises over 8.5 years and $3,000 annual stipends to wear body cameras but forced members to work five additional shifts a year and contribute to their health care regardless of their hire date.

Along with McDermott, PBA 1st Vice President Pete Paterson, a longtime behind-the-scenes union leader, was strongly in favor of the deal.

But 2nd Vice President Dean Losquadro, who was a close ally of McDermott when they won leadership of the union in 2017, led a faction opposing the deal that included Steven Losquadro, Dean’s cousin, and the Nassau PBA’s attorney.

As it turns out, body cameras were not the deal-killer. Most insiders say they’re not really controversial anymore because many Nassau cops see them as more likely to provide exculpatory evidence than damning information. And they love the extra $3,000 a year for wearing them.

The contract simply was roadkill in a power struggle against McDermott for control of the union, and a hangover from long-term anger at Nassau County over past givebacks. Older members are also still angry about County Executive Laura Curran’s continued court battle to keep cops from getting longevity pay they say they were promised in a memorandum from Republican members of the past county administration looking to hurt Democrats in the 2017 race.

In their campaign against the deal, Dean Losquadro and his allies argued McDermott was getting taken to the cleaners and the PBA would have been better off with mandatory arbitration. Experts, whether involved in the case or merely observing, say that’s wrong: Mandatory arbitration would only cover 2018 and 2019, and would almost certainly follow the pattern established by the recent deals of the detectives’ and superior officers’ unions.

Meanwhile, the Losquadros have gotten increasingly active in supporting the county Republican Party and its candidates, strengthening relationships between themselves and GOP chairman Joseph Cairo, cutting out McDermott.

Steven Losquadro’s brother, Dan, is the Republican Brookhaven Town highway superintendent and the PBA has been increasingly supportive of Republican causes since 2017, including funding 2020 State Senate candidates who had little chance of winning. Steven Losquadro’s desire for a judgeship, which Cairo could satisfy, is well known.

Under former PBA president James Carver and his predecessor, Gary DelaRaba, the union was nonpartisan, fighting only for its members and siding with candidates of both parties who supported their cause.

With a civil war within union leadership, it’s unclear how the parties can move forward to get a new contract done.

When other union leaders first began fighting McDermott and this contract and the versions approved by the detectives’ and superior officers’ unions, they did not foresee that demands for racial justice in policing would include wanting changes in policing spelled out in a collective bargaining agreement. Now that the matter is open for negotiation again, the dynamic could change.