THE CHIEF-LEADER

By MARK TOOR | Posted: Monday, February 25, 2013 5:00 pm

Nassau County cannot unilaterally restrict its Correction Officers from participating in shift swaps that occur more than three months apart, the Public Employment Relations Board ruled in a decision that the union’s lawyer said could signal a change in the way management-rights clauses are interpreted.

For more than 20 years, the county had a written policy allowing officers of the same rank to exchange shifts so they could work out preferred days off. But early in 2011, the county ordered that such shifts could not be separated by more than three months. An Administrative Law Judge found for the county, but the union appealed to the full board, which reversed the ruling Feb. 5.

‘Better for Agency, Too’

“Allowing Correction Officers to perform voluntary shift exchanges with other officers, and not limiting them to a short three-month-window period, frees up the officer to schedule more time off to spend with his family and loved ones throughout the year,” said John Jaronczyk, president of the Nassau County Sheriff’s Correction Officers Benevolent Association. “This is a huge morale boost for the COs, and it actually is a cost savings to the department since the officers are arranging their own shift exchanges, saving the Sheriff from having to pay costly overtime to replace the officer.”

An attorney for the union, Liam Castro of Koehler and Isaacs, said this was a major victory for the union.

First, he said in an interview, “PERB overruled its own Administrative Law Judge, which I think is always remarkable.”

Second, he said, the board went against a trend in which management-rights clauses are interpreted broadly to give managers more power. The county argued that because the contract included no language on shift exchanges, and swapping of shifts is a mandatory subject for negotiation, the union had no right to object to the new restrictions.

‘A Clear Distinction’

But according to the PERB ruling, when the management-rights clause is read in conjunction with other language concerning shifts, “it is not reasonably clear that the management-rights section was intended to apply to employee shifts or shift exchanges between [union] employees. To the contrary, the agreement demonstrates that the parties have drawn a clear distinction between the county’s right to regulate work schedules and the applicable procedures and rights relating to employee shifts.”

PERB decided that in the absence of clearer language, the county could not make changes that touch on a mandatory subject of bargaining without negotiating with the union.

“The management-rights clause has been read more broadly than it should have been in other cases,” Mr. Castro said. “The Administrative Law Judge’s ruling is an example of this...We think this decision is the beginning of stopping that.”

“The county is appealing PERB’s decision,” said Elizabeth J. Loconsolo, a spokeswoman for the Nassau County Correctional Center. The appeal will be handled by State Supreme Court.

Mr. Jaronczyk said morale among COs “is at an all-time low.” He told THE CHIEF-LEADER this was because the state control board overseeing Nassau County’s finances had frozen public employees’ salaries since 2011, meaning some COs hired around that time have been stuck at $30,000. A Federal Judge recently ruled in a suit filed by three police unions that the control board did not have the authority to freeze wages, but he stayed any change in pay until the county could appeal.