The Sheriff Officers Association (ShOA), the union representing some 1,100 Nassau County correction officers, has been without a contract since December 2004. Contract negotiations with the county over the past two years have been unsuccessful as have attempts by the union to obtain binding arbitration, which requires the passage of home rule legislation by a vote of 13 legislators before the bill can be reviewed at a state level.
In an effort to outline the need for a new contract, which is currently in the fact-finding phase, and put pressure on the Nassau County Legislature to vote on granting the union access to binding arbitration as a means of achieving a contract agreement with the county, ShOA held a press conference and rally April 11. More than a dozen ShOA board members joined President John Duer at the press conference while about 200 correction officers rallied in front of the legislative building on West Street in Mineola later that evening.
Duer told Anton Newspapers that the union's goal is simply to get binding arbitration on the legislature's agenda. " ... Correction officers in Nassau County deserve a fair contract. We have reached an impasse and believe binding arbitration is now needed to allow us to achieve an amicable resolution with the county," said Duer, adding that the union's legislation was delivered to the legislature weeks ago and Presiding Officer Judith Jacobs (D-16th L.D.) has personally prevented it from moving forward.
"We strongly believe that [Jacobs] should allow legislators to vote their consciences on this legislation. If this legislation is put before the full legislature, we are hopeful that we will have enough votes for this legislation to pass," said Duer,
In an interview with Anton Newspapers, Jacobs said that while "there is no question the sheriff's association deserves a contract," granting the union binding arbitration would result in Nassau County "waiving its administrative right." "In a way, we would be saying we are not capable of running the county. Doing so would cause the county to surrender its fiscal oversight," Jacobs said, adding that, in the past, the county has "taken a bath when it comes to binding arbitration," referencing the PBA contract and, specifically, its reopener clause.
Last year, union officials sought binding arbitration in an effort to speed up what they referred to as "unsuccessful contract negotiations." The union's last contract expired Dec. 31, 2004 and a proposed contract brought forth in September 2005 was rejected by the 19-member legislature due to concern that certain factors could trigger a reopener clause in the PBA contract and result in "me-toos" among the police union. As a result, ShOA and the county returned to the bargaining table, unsuccessfully, and, in May 2006, both parties mutually agreed to mediation but today, nearly a year later, the union has yet to receive a contract.
The presiding officer said the PBA contract is expected to be settled by early summer and is hopeful ShOA's contract will also be settled in the upcoming months. "As soon as that is done, we can get back to ShOA and the administration can negotiate a settlement," said Jacobs, adding, "There is no question [ShOA] deserves a contract. They are a wonderful group and do a tremendous job. No one doubts that. I feel bad for [the union] and will do anything for them but I cannot grant them binding arbitration. Frustration over the lack of a contract doesn't warrant them to get binding arbitration."
Back in June, however, Jacobs told Anton Newspapers she was in favor of granting the union the home rule message to obtain binding arbitration from the state because it appeared to be the only way for ShOA to get their contract. "Binding arbitration is never the ideal [because] you are relinquishing the power of the executive and the legislature in terms of voting on the contract, but, that being said, we were finding ourselves in a situation that this particular union will never see a contract come to fruition. It's a Catch 22," Jacobs previously said.
Jacobs said she was in favor of binding arbitration a year ago because she "felt the county was at an impossible impasse" but a "change in circumstances based on the PBA contract" makes it unfavorable at this time. "With the police contract hopefully done by June, we have every reason to believe there will be a change in negotiating powers," she said, adding, "Binding arbitration takes years. [The sheriff's union] is much better off moving ahead as quickly as possible without binding arbitration."
According to Duer, ShOA is the only law enforcement bargaining unit in the region that does not have the binding arbitration option at this time. "Police and corrections unions from New York City, New York State, Westchester, Rockland and Suffolk Counties have all been granted the option of using binding arbitration to resolve their contract disputes," he said. "It is only fair to the 1,100 members of our union to have the same bargaining options as other comparable law enforcement organizations," ShOA's president said.
On April 12, ShOA board members held a follow up meeting with legislators. As it currently stands, the union is working to hook up their attorneys with the legislature in an effort to "show binding arbitration is good for the employee and the employer," said Duer.
"We are getting our lawyers to get them the information to show that it works for both," he said, adding that even if contract negotiations pan out over the next few months, the union is still looking to obtain binding arbitration so that "this never happens again and we are not waiting two, three or fours years for a contract," said Duer.