By Amanda Wyatt
With a contract negotiation now in arbitration, tensions continue to brew between Sag Harbor Village and the Sag Harbor Patrolmen’s Benevolent Association (PBA).
For almost two years, the village and the PBA have been at odds over salaries and benefits.
Last Saturday — two days before the first formal arbitration meeting took place — the pot was stirred just a little bit further at a community forum on the topic of police arbitration at Pierson Middle/High School.
Bill Jones, a former village trustee and a former Suffolk County legislator sponsored the forum, designed, he said, to educate the public on how the arbitration process works.
It’s a process Jones said he believes is “rigged.”
On Saturday, he told audiences he hoped they would come to understand why he thinks “the process is unfair, how that process has led to the arrogance of the unions, and finally, the ultimate effect both have had on local governments — that happens to be tyranny.”
According to Jones, the problem with arbitration is rooted in the Taylor Law — article 14 of the New York State Civil Service Law. It outlines the process, the rights and limits of unions for public employees.
In his view, one major problem with the law is that the panel involved in arbitration is supposed to take into consideration whether the public employer is financially able to meet the union’s requests.
As a consequence, Jones said, some people have the “insidious, cancerous viewpoint” that “since a municipality [has] the unlimited ability to tax, then it always has the ability to pay.”
Jones also said the arbitration panel is made up of three arbitrators, one of which is chosen by the union, another by the municipality and the third by both parties together. He claimed that while there are roughly 50 arbitrators from which to choose on Long Island, “in practice, only about six or seven from the list get chosen on a regular basis.”
“Why this is should be apparent: an arbitrator unfriendly to union demands and with possible sympathies to the municipality’s position is not going to get much arbitration work in New York State,” he declared.
Jones also brought up the list of requests the PBA originally made during contract negotiations, including the request for a 4.5 percent salary increase.
“Only union arrogance would seek such a raise in these times when so many are struggling to make ends meet,” he said.
During the public input portion of the forum, a number of audience members took to the podium to express their thoughts.
Mayor Brian Gilbride raised the issue of the cost of police protection.
“It’s not about police bashing, it’s about affordable police protection,” he said. “It’s not the service, it’s the cost. The costs are starting to price themselves out.”
“On behalf of the village, let me be 100 percent clear. The village has tried every effort not to go into mediation,” Gilbride added.
At the same time, many of Jones’ comments proved controversial to other audience members. Tom Fabiano, chief of police, disagreed with the assertion that arbitrators were likely to be pro-union and that the arbitration process outlined by the Taylor Law was “rigged.”
“Bill, it’s your opinion what the arbitrators will do…I appreciate you saying what you’ve said here, but you’re talking about the Taylor Law — the Taylor Law is one thing and your opinion is greater than what is described by [it],” he said.
Fabiano added that he had been involved in contract negotiations for years and it is always customary for unions to start out with a high offer and wind up with less than they asked for.
Although Pat Milazzo, PBA president, was not present at Saturday’s meeting he echoed Fabiano’s comments in a separate interview.
“What you ask for is not necessarily what you’re going to end up with,” he said. “The way that the village has portrayed it, it’s as though we want everything on the list.”
Although Milazzo would not reveal what concessions the PBA was willing to make, he did emphasize that it did not expect to get everything it had asked for, including a 4.5 percent wage increase.
“I would bet you the deed to my house and three paychecks, when this contract is settled, it will not be 4.5 percent wage increases per year,” he said.
Any claims that the PBA had not been willing to negotiate, he added, were false.
Still, Milazzo said, there was some progress between both parties at their first meeting with the arbitrator, which happened on Monday.
“There was some dialogue between both the PBA and the village, going back and forth, between the arbitrator,” he said. “There was a little bit of movement on both sides, but we’re certainly not there yet.”