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LIBN Column: Nassau COBA’s brave, risky move

Kris LaGrange's picture
Nov 08, 2013

It’s been three years since a Nassau County corrections officer had a raise.

The average CO makes $30,000 a year. The benefits are nice, but the work is grueling. “Being a corrections officer is the toughest beat in Nassau County,” says John Jaronczyk, president of the 925-member Nassau County Sheriff’s Correction Officer Benevolent Association.

Jaronczyk is no stranger to rough conditions. At 6 feet, 7 inches, this energetic union leader worked at the Nassau Jail for almost 24 years. Upon being elected president in 2012, he took on the responsibility of representing hundreds of working families during one of the worst economic periods in Nassau’s history, with the Nassau Interim Finance Authority freezing his hardened members’ wages.

With County Executive Ed Mangano pulling plays straight out of the anti-union tea party playbook, Jaronczyk has done his best to play nice in Nassau labor relations’ unfriendly sandbox. It’s not generally known, for instance, that the county demoted 30 vital jail positions. Fewer supervisors at the jail means less safety for the COs, and COBA’s professionalism paid off when Nassau eventually reinstated those posts.

But COBA has found itself backed into a corner more than once, especially with Mangano dragging his feet with COBA while bargaining instead with two of Nassau’s largest public-employee unions in the months leading up to Tuesday’s election – a transparent tactic on the executive’s part, even if it did convince the PBA and the CSEA to steer clear of the campaign.

So it’s no surprise that COBA stood alone as the only Nassau public-employee union to endorse a candidate in the county executive race: Democratic challenger Tom Suozzi. Most Long Island unions backed Suozzi, though not the Nassau police unions, the CSEA or a few rogue trade unions.

Nobody blames these public unions for sitting this one out. The risks that COBA took in endorsing their boss’ challenger are understood and respected, and the four years of pain Mangano has inflicted – so far – on Nassau’s public workforce won’t be simply eliminated with new union contracts.

So COBA made a bold move endorsing Suozzi, one that may have actually helped other unions in their bargaining processes. It also set up this possible paradigm: If the re-elected Mangano looks to hurt the corrections officers during their forthcoming bargaining sessions, it will show without fail the executive’s vindictive character.

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