As the wage freeze for Nassau County union employees enters its fourth year, a vote by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority board on Monday offers the first ray of hope that a thaw is on the horizon.
With two dissenting votes, the NIFA board approved resolutions that would enable the authority to lift the wage freeze provided the unions agree to concessions, the county comes up with savings and revenue, and the county legislature passes the deal.
More than 1,000 union employees had gathered at the Marriott Long Island Hotel in Uniondale and security was tight before the vote. Inside the conference room the mood was less tense because the NIFA board was expected to offer guidelines for lifting the freeze, which its action subsequently did.
“This is a crisis that’s been a long time coming and in need of a resolution,” said NIFA chairman Jon Kaiman. He hopes all parties can agree by April 1 because the county could save millions of dollars by hiring a new class of police officers that are on the civil service list. If that deadline is missed, then the county will have to go through the process again.
If the county and the unions act fast, Kaiman said NIFA is poised to act.
Police Benevolent Association President Jim Carver, whose union has been involved in the negotiations, feels the same way, telling the Press that “we should have a signed document within 24 to 48 hours at the most.”
Kaiman said the county would have to come up with $129 million in new revenue through speed cameras, mortgage recording taxes, and other municipal fees to cover the salary increases, while the unions would have to agree to changes in work rules and that all new county employees contribute to their pensions and health insurance.
One of the dissenting NIFA voters, Dermond Thomas, said he wanted the freeze to be lifted immediately. The other dissenter, Chris Wright, explained that he voted against the resolution because he thought the county was in a deeper financial hole and would have to come up with “a quarter of a billion dollars” to achieve a balanced budget once the wage freeze was lifted.
Kaiman told the Press he was optimistic that the county has the potential to save more money or earn additional revenue to hit that $129 million target.
“We’re not at the finish line yet,” Kaiman said with a smile. “We’re almost there.”
He said that three of the county’s employees unions are in agreement with NIFA and “the other two are working it through. If they can present those contracts to their membership and get approval, and then go to the legislature for approval, we will meet immediately to get those contracts done.”
One of the unions still on the fence was the Nassau Correction Officers Benevolent Association, whose president, John Jaronczyk, said that the NIFA board’s action Monday was “not a cause for celebration but we are going to stay positive with it and try to live within the parameters and reach a deal.”
He said the freeze has been very hard on his union members.
“Unfortunately most of my members can’t even make their credit card bills anymore,” Jaronczyk said. “I’ve had a couple of them declare bankruptcy because they’re frozen at $30,000 a year.”
By contrast, he pointed out that “people in the county executive’s office, the county comptroller’s office and the district attorney’s office all received lucrative raises while union employees were frozen. That’s a little hypocritical there.”
Under the NIFA resolution, the county worker unions could continue their state lawsuits arguing that the NIFA-imposed wage freeze starting in 2011 was illegal,l but they couldn’t sue over the new terms of the deal being negotiated. If all parties can agree, then the cost of living allowances and step increases would start later this year and last through 2017.