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Not all benefits are forever

Islip Town seal

Islip Town seal Photo Credit: Newsday/Ana P. Gutierrez

The madness of "past practice" strikes again.

The Town of Islip, facing shrinking mortgage tax revenue, has tried multiple ways to cut costs, including taking away take-home cars from union employees. But the state's Public Employment Relations Board has thwarted the town, saying basically this: What towns have always given, they can't take away without a union's agreement, even though the benefit does not exist in a union contract.

In 2010, an administrative law judge ruled against Islip. Now, the full PERB has affirmed that. If the ruling stands, and the town not only has to give back the cars, but also compensate workers for the driving they did without them, it could be a costly victory for the union: The savings have to come from somewhere, and Islip Supervisor Phil Nolan says that might mean layoffs.

Nolan fiercely believes the town has to be able to trim costs in tough times, instead of continuing to bestow a benefit created in better days. So he plans to take the issue to court, though his chances are slim, because judges tend to defer to administrative decisions like this. He'll also talk to Teamsters Local 237, hoping to limit Islip's costs if he loses.

Most important, he'll urge Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo to seek legislation to make the loony, expensive "past practice" principle a thing of the past. Cuomo the cost-cutter should do just that.


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