Editorial: Long Island's trouble with arbitrators
This month was very good for the investigators of the Nassau County district attorney's office, and very bad for the taxpayers. That's normal on Long Island, where the arbitration system is out of control, our pocketbooks are being abused almost beyond belief and politicians are either unable or unwilling to stop the madness.
Two weeks ago, an arbitration panel gave 40 percent raises to 43 current and former DA's office investigators, meaning the best-paid will receive $190,000 per year and the average for that job will be $121,000. In comparison, investigators with the district attorneys' offices in New York City earn an average of about $65,000 per year.
Many of the 42 Nassau investigators now working for the DA's office are retired police officers with pensions of $56,000 to $106,000 a year. Thirty of the 42 are retirees who have waivers allowing them to collect public pensions and earn full salaries from another government employer. Without waivers, people collecting state pensions cannot earn more than $30,000 a year from another government job. The waivers are supposed to be very hard to get, with public employers essentially having to prove they could not find qualified hires other than these retirees. They are, instead, often laughably easy to obtain.
Beyond the huge pay hike, and $3 million in retroactive payments, DA's investigators in Nassau will get 24 days of sick leave and 27 to 30 vacation days a year, health insurance with no contribution out of their pockets (and $2,000 annual bonuses if they don't take the health insurance, an important clause for those "double-dipping" retirees already getting health care) and clothing and equipment allowances of $1,900 per year.
And why do they get all this? According to the panel led by pro-labor arbitrator Martin Scheinman, it's because DA's investigators in Suffolk County do, and because Nassau County's police detectives do.
In the universe of arbitration logic, the ruling makes sense. The police benevolent associations and other cop unions in both counties, with the willing help of arbitrators and in some cases, county officials, have hiked the pay and benefits of law enforcement personnel sky-high, but these Nassau DA investigators were left out. Arbitration is based on comparable contracts, and there's no legal justification for giving this one group a deal that much worse than everybody else's.
However, arbitration for law enforcement is so far off-kilter in favor of employees and against taxpayers that it is destroying the finances of our counties. Nowhere is there any recognition of meteoric taxes and a stagnant economic base.
For the arbitration panel to award such packages, when almost 75 percent of the investigators already get public pensions, is unrealistic in a county under a state financial control board. The fact that these law enforcement workers got such a great deal isn't what's important. What's important, and what's breaking the bank, is an arbitraton system run amok.