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Nassau PBA contract negotiations put McDermott in a tough spot

Nassau PBA President James McDermott in Mineola in

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

Daily Point

Let’s break a deal!

When a labor contract is negotiated, the first challenge is usually finding areas of agreement. But when the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association and Nassau County resume negotiations Friday, they’ll have to identify disagreements to get anywhere.

The two sides made a deal last year but the membership failed to ratify what PBA President James McDermott put in front of them, thanks to infighting from an upstart faction arguing the deal wasn’t good enough.

The consensus now, several insiders told The Point, is that the push against the deal was a big mistake. Those who led it believed the agreement would pass but hoped it would weaken McDermott by cutting his margin of victory. Instead, the deal failed by 143 votes. McDermott’s detractors have now largely fallen silent, as he heads back to the table in a weakened position.

Laying low might make sense because it doesn’t look like the pot is going to get any sweeter, Nassau Interim Finance Authority Chairman Adam Barsky, the county fiscal watchdog, told The Point. He said "the union is barking up the wrong tree." And no one in Nassau County Executive Laura Curran’s administration, NIFA or the union leadership disagrees with Barsky’s assessment.

The vote in December was rushed to get the contract in place for a new class of police officers. The new rules mandated an 11-year process to reach top pay, up from the current eight, and also required increased health insurance contributions. Those millions in savings are now lost to county taxpayers.

The savings in the 8 ½-year deal would have offset pay increases and stipends totaling 25% over the life of the contract. For now, those have evaporated, including the controversial provision that would have paid officers $3,000 a year for wearing body cameras.

And the argument of McDermott’s PBA foes that the union would have done better in mandatory arbitration is now seen as a fantasy. Mandatory arbitration creates two-year contracts based on the recent pattern of deals. Nassau’s detectives and superior officers unions recently entered new contracts that begin with two years without pay increases, so that’s likely what the PBA would be awarded, too; the PBA deal had 1% increases for each of the first two years, that were not retroactive.

If the county sweetens the PBA pot now, detectives and superior officers would get their contracts automatically reopened if any aspect of the PBA deal exceeds what their members got. NIFA is not expected to sign off on any changes that enrich the deals for three unions. So McDermott is in a tough spot. If he cannot get a better deal, some members won’t want to budge. Meanwhile, the county and NIFA are demanding the PBA make up for lost savings caused by the delay.

McDermott’s one strong card might be Curran’s bid for reelection in November: The PBA hammered her in the leadup to her 2017 win against Republican Jack Martins and thereafter. Curran wants a deal done, and wouldn’t mind a few new friends in blue. The path might be a few small changes in the proposed contract that satisfy legal concerns that are different enough to qualify for a new vote without breaking the bank or further alienating members.

—Lane Filler @lanefiller

Talking Point

GOP's Zeldin and Stefanik Zooming together

Invitations for a Wednesday "Birthday and Victory Zoom Fundraiser" for Rep. Lee Zeldin included a special guest: fellow New York House member and Trump defender Elise Stefanik.

The Shirley Republican has launched fundraising appeals with members of Trump-world in the past, including Donald Trump Jr. and former flack Sean Spicer. But apart from Stefanik’s Trump support, the most recent invitee is also something of a headliner given the whispers about her as a GOP candidate for governor in 2022.

Stefanik hasn’t announced a run but she has certainly been happy to joust with Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo in recent weeks, keeping her name in the papers and perhaps boosting her fundraising appeal. Hence the war of words from nursing homes to national politics with the upstate Republican calling Cuomo the "worst Governor in America," and Cuomo-world highlighting her objection (along with Zeldin) to certifying the results of the 2020 election.

If Stefanik does take the plunge next year, any path to victory would need a lot of votes in Zeldin’s very red backyard of Suffolk County.

Zeldin spokeswoman Katie Vincentz did not detail the amount of money raised at the event, which was scheduled for a quick 45 minutes Wednesday afternoon. The online invite requested $1,000 per person for VIP sponsorship which included a roundtable with the two members of Congress. General admission was $25 a head for brief remarks and Q&A, according to the schedule.

Zeldin, who is also navigating his path forward in New York Republican politics, would return the favor and do an event for Stefanik "if/when requested," Vincentz said in an email.

The state GOP was not affiliated with the duo’s event, said Jessica Proud, party spokeswoman, but "both of them would be excellent candidates for governor."

—Mark Chiusano @mjchiusano

Pencil Point

Winter won't let up

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Final Point

Is Long Island's water safe from hackers?

The hack of a municipal water supply system in Florida earlier this month got the attention of water providers on Long Island, who have various levels of confidence in the ability of districts in the region to fend off cyberattacks.

The still-unknown hacker – more likely a relatively unsophisticated hacker than a foreign government or a ring of ransom-seekers, experts say – got into the water system in Oldsmar, a city of some 14,000 residents near Tampa, and raised the level of sodium hydroxide (lye) to more than 100 times normal levels. The system’s operator saw the intrusion in real time and immediately restored the proper level.

That likely would never happen to the Suffolk County Water Authority, Rich Bova told The Point. Bova, SCWA’s emergency manager and deputy director of strategic initiatives, said the agency has several more layers of security than much-smaller Oldsmar, updates its firewall regularly, and does cyber monitoring 24/7.

"This is all an ongoing process: We assess our vulnerability and take steps to ensure that what happened in Oldsmar doesn’t happen here," Bova said. "If you have a firewall and VPN and robust password protection and use more robust IT practices, you can minimize this stuff."

Bova said SCWA’s system is not internet-facing, meaning it cannot be accessed from outside the system. An internet-facing system is convenient and more common in smaller districts where managers can monitor the system from home. But that also makes the system more vulnerable to a hacker.

Bethpage Water District Superintendent Mike Boufis said his smaller system has a firewall, VPN and continual monitoring, and said the district runs through its emergency plan at least quarterly. "It’s just a prudent thing to do," he said.

What happened in Oldsmar, Boufis said, "is not the first time, we’ve heard about this in the past. We’re going to review all our cybersecurity plans and protocols."

Both the state health department and the federal Environmental Protection Agency require water districts to update emergency plans and vulnerability assessments yearly. But as Massapequa Water District Superintendent Stan Carey noted, hackers always are more advanced than defenders.

"I’m always worried about it," said Carey, who like his peers catalogued the safety measures in place in his district. "We like to think we’re in a good place and comfortable, but these guys are good and if there’s a way they’ll find it. They seem to be 10 steps ahead all the time."

—Michael Dobie @mwdobie