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A good deal for Nassau and county police

Nassau County officials reached a union contract deal

Nassau County officials reached a union contract deal with county police last week. The pact awaits approval by Nassau lawmakers. Credit: Steve Pfost

At the start of contract negotiations with detectives in the Nassau County Police Department, everyone at the table agreed on the need to end the shortage of detectives.

Only 300 of the department’s 360 detective slots are filled and despite crime in the county being near all-time lows, the shortage led to increased overtime, a weary workforce and difficulty quickly ramping up responses to new problems.

The shortage was caused by a quirk of the last set of police contracts, which expired on the final day of 2017. Those contracts left little incentive for patrol officers to accept promotions to detective, because the structure of pay scales and annual step increases often meant cops could earn as much or more as patrol officers.

The challenge was to lift detective pay enough to make the role attractive, while crafting a deal the county can afford. And the contract ratified last week with the support of two-thirds of detective union members, negotiated with a representative of the county’s financial control board at the table for the first time, passes that test.

Now the county legislature must approve the pact, creating a blueprint for upcoming talks with the county’s other police unions that are fair to both workers and taxpayers.

The detectives’ contract runs until July 2026, granting cumulative raises of about 15 percent along with a once-only $2,000 lump-sum payment. And now there is a bigger incentive to become a detective: a shortened path to reaching top pay and the creation of a new rank, detective first grade, for longer-tenured detectives, for which top base pay would be $155,000.

In return, all detectives will contribute 2% of base earnings to their health care by 2021, rising to 2.5% percent by 2023. Additionally, each detective will work at least five more shifts a year than in the past.

Significantly, this contract begins to bend the cost curve on termination pay. Currently such payouts, generated by accruing unused sick and vacation time from the cops’ huge annual allotments, are capped at two times final base pay. This contract eventually pulls that down to 1.5 times final base pay, while also cutting annual sick days for new hires from 24 days a year to 18.

These concessions don’t sound like much to most taxpayers. But in New York, where police officers are protected by mandatory arbitration that makes it impossible to cut their pay and benefits, this deal is a huge win.

Now it needs to become the new normal for all of Long Island’s public-sector workers.

The other unions don’t like it. The PBA, livid, pressured the detectives’ union to kill the deal.

County Executive Laura Curran’s plan to have at the table a NIFA representative who does not depend on police unions for political or financial support, a move legislators and the unions opposed bitterly, turned out to be a master stroke. It meant the taxpayers finally had someone looking out for them.

That, and a clear need for more detectives, changed the dynamic for the better. Now this improvement must become a trend.

— The editorial board