No shirt, no shoes, no mandates
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio released big news on Wednesday through his preferred outlet, MSNBC’s Morning Joe: A COVID-19 vaccine mandate is coming for municipal employees, because "it’s time for everyone to get vaccinated," he said.
For a glimpse of how controversial and even politically bold that decision was, look no further than de Blasio’s eastern neighbors. Neither Nassau nor Suffolk counties have such blanket mandates for municipal workers, including police officers and their powerful unions.
And throughout our editorial board endorsement interviews with county candidates running for office in November, we heard lots of the arguments that have been arrayed against mandates, from questions about side effects to the fact that public employees performed heroically during the pandemic.
County Executive Laura Curran, de Blasio’s counterpart in Nassau, said a mandate wasn’t necessary due to high vaccination rates for the public, plus the county’s "positive approach" in encouraging police to get vaccines: "I am confident in our approach," she told the editorial board.
Nassau Legis. Rose Walker, a Hicksville Republican, argued against vaccine mandates by saying, "I think that should be someone’s choice."
Walker told us that while she was vaccinated and immunocompromised herself, and even her young grandchild had gotten the vaccine, she felt that many in the health care profession "feel that we’ve rushed into something and down the road there’s going to be further complications."
Richard Nicolello, a Republican and the Nassau Legislature’s presiding officer, said, "I believe in not using government coercion if you don’t have to."
Asked about the situation of immunocompromised Long Islanders and whether unvaccinated cops could be a danger, Nicolello suggested a "procedure" where only a vaccinated police officer goes to such a person’s house: "They should call 911 and tell them I am immunocompromised, we need someone here who’s, make sure whoever comes here is protected."
Some candidates did support a mandate wholeheartedly.
Democratic Nassau legislative hopeful Raja Singh of Hicksville, who is running against Walker, said he would "definitely mandate a vaccine" for the types of people who engage with civilians on the street or in their homes: "They should feel confident that their health isn’t being compromised."
Other candidates left wiggle room.
The Suffolk County Legislature’s presiding officer, Robert Calarco, a Democrat, said of public employee mandates, "It’s not something I think we’re at yet."
However, he said, "At some point if people continue to be reluctant we’ll have to see how we take it to another level if necessary."
— Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano
Nassau CSEA calls Curran out on checks
Working without a new contract for nearly four years and frustrated as inflation eats into their paychecks, the Nassau County CSEA is confronting County Executive Laura Curran with a "contract campaign." Members were asked Wednesday to call several county phone numbers or email Curran to complain that she’s sending $375 checks out to most Nassau households that should be going to the county’s workers.
One ad on Facebook reads "Curran come clean: You’re spending MILLIONS on $375 checks for the wealthy instead of paying your workforce. STOP disrespecting CSEA Local 830. Settle our contract NOW!"
"We’ve seen, between the county and NUMC, the lives of 15 CSEA members lost to COVID," Nassau CSEA president Ron Gurrieri told The Point Wednesday. "We hear about all the money Curran is sending to small business owners, nonprofits, homeowners. We’re hearing she has $100 million she doesn’t know what to do with. Why not pay the employees who’ve worked so hard to get the county through this crisis. And what do we hear from the Nassau Interim Finance Authority? Crickets."
Gurrieri said that in addition to being out of contract and largely going without raises as inflation spikes above 5% annually, the unions have other costly issues with the county that Curran’s cash on hand could address, pointing specifically to the longtime county/unions battle over longevity pay and an ongoing arbitration over comp time for county workers who had to toil during COVID-19 while other employees were paid for not working.
"We’ve asked members to start calling and emailing and I think we’ve had about 450 do so in the past two days," Gurrieri said. "And the plan is for this to continue until we get a contract."
Curran is heavily favored in her race against Republican Hempstead Town Board member Bruce Blakeman, who in addition to facing long odds, hasn’t usually been perceived as an ally by CSEA leaders. So there is little incentive to support him, yet a lot of good reasons not to make Curran an enemy.
But endorsing Curran while the union has been without a deal through every day of her term doesn’t interest members, either. So Gurrieri has his contract campaign.
A Curran spokesman responded: "Nassau County Executive Laura Curran has the utmost respect for all of our CSEA Local 830 employees and is in active collective bargaining negotiations with the local President. The County Executive’s office has taken this opportunity to remind many of our employees that they are eligible to apply for the direct $375 payments online if they haven’t done so already and that these one-time federal funds are for household relief in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, not salaries."
According to the rules surrounding the federal stimulus money, Nassau could use the money to pay CSEA members COVID hazard bonuses, or pay them for COVID comp time. The county likely could not use it directly for raises.
— Lane Filler @lanefiller
Not so fast
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East Side Access chugs along
Over the years, the effort to connect the Long Island Rail Road to Grand Central Terminal, known as East Side Access, likely has taken up hours of time at Metropolitan Transportation Authority board meetings, with difficult conversations about delays, cost overruns and more.
But Wednesday, it took just minutes for the board to take a significant step forward in preparing for East Side Access to become a reality.
During the MTA’s monthly board meeting, its members unanimously approved the creation of a new subsidiary to operate and maintain the East Side Access terminal and concourse. The subsidiary will act as a public benefit corporation. In paperwork presented to the MTA board, the authority said that establishing the subsidiary would "provide the appropriate legal structures and protection for operating this transit facility."
The big move brings East Side Access closer to reality. The motion made by MTA chairman Janno Lieber Wednesday drew no discussion and a quick approval.
Board documents indicate that the MTA plans to bring in private sector operators to establish an East Side Access hub "similar to operations that are typically seen in airports and train halls throughout the country."
The new subsidiary will be staffed by fewer than 10 people. The authority expects those who head the new subsidiary will come from within the MTA.
"Their sole job will be to oversee the private sector unionized operation that will operate some of the retail and public spaces," Lieber said Wednesday. "That is to the benefit of our passengers and the public."
Likely helping to smooth the approval of the new entity: the decision to use union labor, and create new jobs, for the rest of the work, which came as part of a collective bargaining effort, Lieber said. The existing LIRR workforce will handle East Side Access tracks, trains and rail-related needs, along with some cleaning operations. The documents noted the need to create 210 union positions to handle those tasks.
East Side Access is expected to be ready to open by the end of 2022.
— Randi F. Marshall @RandiMarshall