Nassau Wage Freeze Appeal Arguments Heard

The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan (Photo by Erlend Bjoertvedt).
The U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan (Photo by Erlend Bjoertvedt).

Federal judges heard arguments Monday from the Nassau County police union seeking to overturn a wage freeze and the county that could owe $200 million in back pay if the police win.

Attorneys for both sides made their cases before the U.S. Court of Appeals for the 2nd Circuit in Manhattan after the county and Nassau County Interim Finance Authority, which enacted the wage freeze two years ago, appealed a U.S. District Court ruling in the union’s favor earlier this year.

“We’re saying that they don’t have the power to do this,” said Alan Klinger, attorney for the Nassau County Police Benevolent Association, citing a prior 2nd Circuit ruling nullifying wage freezes in Buffalo.

U.S. District Court Judge Leonard Wexler stayed his February ruling that NIFA’s authority to enact a wage freeze under New York State law had expired before the board enacted it to stem the county’s fiscal crisis.

“This is a very important matter of state law that really seems more appropriate to be addressed in the state court…doesn’t it?” asked Judge Susan Carney, one of three that typically serve on the panel.

“I’m cautiously optimistic,” said Nassau County Attorney John Ciampoli, who sat alongside Marc Wenger, a labor lawyer with Melville-based Jackson Lewis LLP that he hired to argue the case. “It’s the one good thing that NIFA has done for the county.”

Also among the observers was Jerry Laricchiuta, president of the Nassau County Civil Service Employee Association Local 830, the union that represents 6,000 county employees. A lawsuit his union filed challenging the wage freeze is pending while the PBA case moves forward.

“It has wide-ranging ramifications, that’s for sure,” James Carver, president of the PBA, told the Press outside the courtroom. “It’s a waiting game now.”

It’s not clear when the panel will complete its review of the thousands of pages of court documents and issue its ruling.

NIFA Chairman Ronald Stack has said that the state-appointed fiscal oversight board is “confident that the continuing validity of its wage freeze power will be upheld.”