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Mike BarryEye on the Island

By Mike Barry
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Mineola Maneuvers

The Nassau Interim Finance Authority (NIFA), only weeks after the Mangano administration dropped its lawsuit against them, is now being sued in federal court by the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), which represents thousands of the county’s unionized government employees.

The CSEA is asking a federal judge to overturn the NIFA board’s decision last month to freeze the wages of the county’s CSEA-represented employees at their current levels, a sensible step NIFA took amid the county’s ongoing financial difficulties and soon after NIFA’s six directors unanimously declared a ‘control period’ over the county’s 2011 budget.

In fact, the one-year wage freeze was a decisive action County Executive Edward Mangano supported, but could not institute, because the county’s labor unions enjoy collective bargaining agreements with Nassau County government, which run through 2015, a legacy of the incumbent county executive’s immediate predecessor. NIFA’s board, pointing to the law, which created NIFA, said it had the power to impose a wage freeze, and did so.

Given they’ve now been sued this year by Nassau County management (the government’s executive branch) and labor (the county’s largest municipal union), NIFA’s six directors, none of whom receive a salary for their service, must wonder why they sought gubernatorial appointments to govern the state-created entity. Is it any surprise that the seventh NIFA director’s seat has remained vacant? Who would want to provide assistance and oversight to Nassau County’s government if you’re going to be a serial defendant?

On the other hand, NIFA’s directors are gaining a greater appreciation for the plight of the county’s elected officials, months after publicly chiding Mineola’s highest-ranking political figure. An example: “…the County Executive proposed $61 million in labor concessions as his signature expenditure savings measure for the 2011 budget,” the NIFA board’s minutes from its January 2011 meeting state. “There is no discernible evidence that one dollar of savings will be achieved. Indeed, the union leaders have publicly stated, in no uncertain terms, that no concessions will be given in 2011—against which the County Executive’s repeated assertion of success in “bringing the unions to the table” rings hollow.”

Rather than bring the CSEA to the table, NIFA’s board just told them Nassau was not in a position to give the CSEA’s county employees, or anyone else on the county payroll, a wage increase, thereby reducing by about $10 million Nassau’s anticipated expenditures for 2011. Meanwhile, County Executive Mangano has since called for the layoff of more than 200 full-time county employees later this year.

One of the underreported parts of the CSEA’s lawsuit is that, if the CSEA prevails in court, it would likely result in the layoff of even more CSEA members. Here’s how such a scenario might unfold: the unfrozen wages would further deplete the county’s treasury, creating additional pressure on Nassau to reduce its spending. Most of the county’s CSEA members might be applauding the CSEA leaderships decision to sue NIFA over the wage freeze. But would they be cheering if they knew a legal victory probably means more of their co-workers could be out of a job?

 

Mike Barry, a corporate communications consultant, has worked in government and journalism. Email: MFBARRY@optonline.net