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Friday, May 24, 2013

Newsday in January 2013 on Arbitration Run Amok

Editorial: Long Island's trouble with arbitrators

The seal of the NassauCounty District Attorney's office.
Photo credit: Nassau County District Attorney' Handout | The seal of the NassauCounty District Attorney's office. (Jan. 11, 2013)
This month was very good for the investigators of the Nassau County district attorney's office, and very bad for the taxpayers. That's normal on Long Island, where the arbitration system is out of control, our pocketbooks are being abused almost beyond belief and politicians are either unable or unwilling to stop the madness.
Two weeks ago, an arbitration panel gave 40 percent raises to 43 current and former DA's office investigators, meaning the best-paid will receive $190,000 per year and the average for that job will be $121,000. In comparison, investigators with the district attorneys' offices in New York City earn an average of about $65,000 per year.
Many of the 42 Nassau investigators now working for the DA's office are retired police officers with pensions of $56,000 to $106,000 a year. Thirty of the 42 are retirees who have waivers allowing them to collect public pensions and earn full salaries from another government employer. Without waivers, people collecting state pensions cannot earn more than $30,000 a year from another government job. The waivers are supposed to be very hard to get, with public employers essentially having to prove they could not find qualified hires other than these retirees. They are, instead, often laughably easy to obtain.

Beyond the huge pay hike, and $3 million in retroactive payments, DA's investigators in Nassau will get 24 days of sick leave and 27 to 30 vacation days a year, health insurance with no contribution out of their pockets (and $2,000 annual bonuses if they don't take the health insurance, an important clause for those "double-dipping" retirees already getting health care) and clothing and equipment allowances of $1,900 per year.
And why do they get all this? According to the panel led by pro-labor arbitrator Martin Scheinman, it's because DA's investigators in Suffolk County do, and because Nassau County's police detectives do.
In the universe of arbitration logic, the ruling makes sense. The police benevolent associations and other cop unions in both counties, with the willing help of arbitrators and in some cases, county officials, have hiked the pay and benefits of law enforcement personnel sky-high, but these Nassau DA investigators were left out. Arbitration is based on comparable contracts, and there's no legal justification for giving this one group a deal that much worse than everybody else's.
However, arbitration for law enforcement is so far off-kilter in favor of employees and against taxpayers that it is destroying the finances of our counties. Nowhere is there any recognition of meteoric taxes and a stagnant economic base.
For the arbitration panel to award such packages, when almost 75 percent of the investigators already get public pensions, is unrealistic in a county under a state financial control board. The fact that these law enforcement workers got such a great deal isn't what's important. What's important, and what's breaking the bank, is an arbitraton system run amok.


Binding arbitration leads to higher taxes


We all know the high price we pay for living in Nassau County. There’s always a lot of talk about the blame game, but did you ever think that one person could singlehandedly drive up our taxes? 

Well surprise, surprise. Over the past several years, Martin Scheinman, a largely unknown power broker, has made quite a career as an arbitrator for thousands of public employees. The deals he has helped hammer out between public employee unions and county officials have impacted millions of taxpayers.

His latest deal, however, has raised more than a few eyebrows and will prove to be another nail in the coffin of the Nassau County taxpayer. 

Last week, Newsday reported that an arbitration panel gave a 40 percent raise to 43 investigators in the district attorney’s office. This included both current and former investigators. Their salaries jumped a grotesque 40 percent during the week of Jan. 7. 

According to Newsday, the investigators were making an average of $86,400 per year, and the salaries ranged from $46,000 to $109,000. The new wage scale increases their salaries to an average of $121,000, with a low of $98,000 and a high of $190,000 — all almost overnight!

Why the dramatic increase? Scheinman and his panel decided that these investigators, who were formerly part of the Civil Service Employees Association, should instead receive the salaries and benefits of the county’s Detectives Association.

The increase in salaries will cost the county an extra $1.5 million. Also entangled in the agreement is approximately $3 million in retroactive pay, and mandated benefits that include extra pay for years of service, clothing and equipment allowances. And let’s not forget 24 days of sick leave a year and 27 vacation days.

Many of these investigators are retired police officers who already receive state pensions. According to a Newsday editorial on the issue, “Thirty of the 42 are retirees who have waivers allowing them to collect public pensions and earn full salaries from another government employer.” This is an absolute sham. Many taxpayers are wondering how this could happen. You may recall that Nassau County’s finances are currently under the control of the Nassau Interim Finance Authority. NIFA serves as a financial control board, and it has imposed a freeze on all county wages, thus eliminating annual pay increases.

The county investigators’ $3 million in retroactive pay dates back to Jan. 1, 2011, which is three months before NIFA took control of all country finances; thus NIFA has no jurisdiction on the matter.

We are in an economic crisis. How much longer is Nassau County going to be subject to decisions made by public arbitrators, such as Scheinman, who is obviously in the pocket of the unions?

Richard Zuckerman, Nassau’s representative on the arbitration panel, wrote that giving the investigators this type of raise “is inconceivable to me . . . while the county remains under NIFA’s jurisdiction and in the middle of a severe financial crisis that makes the county’s ability to pay for this award at best doubtful.”

Scheinman has a long history of controversial decisions. He has repeatedly given Long Island police unions generous awards, making them among the nation’s highest-paid officers. Meanwhile, our taxes continue to rise astronomically, and people are being forced to move out of Nassau County. 

Nassau politicians have complained about Scheinman’s reach in the past, but to no avail. He continues to handle Nassau’s gluttonous police contracts. The current system is taking decisions that should be made by trusted elected officials whom the people elect and putting them in the hands of special-interest captives such as Scheinman.

Suffolk Country was wise enough to enact the so-called “Scheinman Law” in 1998, which bans the county from using arbitrators who have worked in Nassau during the previous three years.

New York’s lawmakers must overhaul binding arbitration laws and put some power into the hands of local officials whose constituents are footing the tax bill. In the meantime, it is long past time for Nassau County to adopt the same policy as Suffolk County and bar Scheinman from participating in any arbitrations.
Al D’Amato, a former U.S. senator from New York, is the founder of Park Strategies LLC, a public policy and business development firm. Comments about this column?