by Pablo Ros | August 24, 2012
The Civil Service Employees Association, AFSCME Local 1000, praised a federal court’s ruling this week to stop Nassau County Executive Edward Mangano from reopening union contracts so he could slash employee benefits.
It’s a decision labor leaders hope will send a clear message to anti-worker politicians like Mangano.
The ruling “should send a strong message that politicians can’t just ignore contracts because it’s more convenient than acting in good faith,” said Danny Donohue, president of CSEA and also an AFSCME International Vice President. Donohue and Jerry Laricchiuta, president of Nassau’s CSEA, were plaintiffs in the lawsuit.
Mangano signed into law a bill that would have allowed him to furlough public employees represented by a collective bargaining unit for one day per week and modify any county contracts as he wished. That was just one of several attacks against workers’ rights that would have taken effect, had the union not sought an immediate injunction. The law tried to place an unfair burden on the backs of public employees to create a supposed $40 million in savings for the county.
U.S. District Judge Arthur Spatt granted the plaintiffs’ request for a preliminary injunction, writing that the law “arguably places a knife to the throat of the unions to coerce them into making certain concessions, under the threat of the County Executive taking more egregious actions.”
Spatt added that the law’s mere passage renders collective bargaining agreements “essentially meaningless” and makes contracts “less binding, or not binding at all, on the County.” Indeed, if negotiated provisions secured in union contracts were unilaterally stripped away or “instantly reduced to nullity,” he argued, then bargaining units like the CSEA “can no longer represent their members in any meaningful way.”
That’s why, despite daunting budget deficits faced by many states and counties, elected officials ought to do the right thing and continue to respect workers’ constitutional contractual rights.
“There are many ways that labor and management can find common ground and work together if there is a willingness to seek solutions,” Donohue said. “Unfortunately, too often today’s polarized politics are about scapegoating public workers and quick-fixes that poison working relationships.”