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Letters to the Editor, February 24, 2011

‘CSEA Workers Are the Wrong Target’

Both before and after the enactment of a control period by the Nassau Interim Finance Authority on Jan. 26, budget reform and the renegotiation of union agreements with Nassau County have been the call of the day.

Accusations by various groups and individuals that paint the county worker as the No. 1 reason why the county has fallen into this financial abyss, are wrong and baseless. True, county workers are paid with public funds that are derived from taxes for the most part. That’s true in any county in America. But people seem to forget that the Nassau County workforce is a small part of the county resident’s property tax bill.

Out of a homeowner’s $10,000 property tax bill, only about $800 goes toward the county payroll, to pay for the salaries, pensions and benefits of all county workers - including every single police and corrections officer and CSEA-represented county employee, who together provide hundreds of services every day. If Nassau rid itself of all those county workers and services, then, that $10,000 tax bill would still be approximately $9,200. Furthermore, CSEA represented employees only make up $300 out of a $10,000 tax bill.

Recently, CSEA signed a tentative agreement with the county that would have given Nassau true future structural change by permanently lowering the pay scale for new hires. Our current members have given back to Nassau many times, and rarely in recent memory has a contract escaped a period where givebacks were not demanded.

In fact, our members are still in the middle of a rescue plan from 2009, which deferred raises by seven months in both 2010 and 2011, and lagged two weeks pay in order to save Nassau County $36 million. In addition, in 2008 the county budgeted our union for a 3.5 percent raise - but we took a zero instead.

To ask these employees to make structural and permanent changes in their current labor agreement is simply unfair.

It’s also unrealistic. CSEA members average $52,000 a year in salary. The average pension after 30 years of service is $18,000 a year. Despite public opinion being fueled by special-interest organizations, the snowplow drivers, parks workers, caseworkers, sewer-plant mechanics, clerks, laborers and hundreds of other hard working CSEA county workers are not living extravagant lifestyles on the public’s dime. And they did nothing to cause the current crisis.

Anything permanent and structural should come from future employees who haven’t signed on to the job yet. That gives potential workers ample chance to review the pay and benefits, and make a sound decision based on whether they can afford to take the job.

Money saved is money in the bank, and the tentative agreement we reached with the county before the NIFA takeover could save Nassau tens of millions in real cash over the life of the contract. Even more, the savings would continue past the term of the contract, unless another agreement were negotiated. That’s long-term, structural change - so it was shocking to read the negative response by some in the media to the proposal.

Regardless of whether this agreement is approved by union members and NIFA, the main message here is that the anger and venom being spewed today at the county worker are wrong and misdirected. We are not the cause of this crisis. We are your neighbors, friends and even family in some instances. Most important, we are taxpayers, just like you.