Charging the Astorino administration with “anti-union animus,” Westchester County’s largest public-employees union on Wednesday filed an improper practice charge with the state’s labor agency, seeking the reinstatement of CSEA Unit 9200 President Karen Pecora to her job with the county Parks Department.
Pecora, the fiery union chief who since 2009 has led opposition to Westchester County Executive Rob Astorino’s budget-cutting plans, had her job eliminated in the 2013 budget, which took effect on Jan. 1.
Daren Rylewicz, CSEA co-counsel, said that Pecora’s lay-off violates the state’s Taylor Law, which governs collective bargaining by municipal workers in New York. Under county contract, Pecora was on what’s called “full release” from her post at the county Parks Department, to head up the 3,200-member labor unit.
The charge was filed with the state Public Employees Relations Board, which has 10 days to respond. If a settlement doesn’t occur during that two-week period, PERB could dismiss the complaint, or go to state Supreme Court to seek Pecora’s reinstatement. Her post was among 73 eliminated in Astorino’s $1.7 billion spending plan.
“With a bargaining unit that large, and the number of layoffs so small, it seems blatant to us,” Rylewicz told Tax Watch. “She was the talking head of the union and very out-spoken. She was on full release, doing the union work, as agreed upon. It’s kind of hard for the county to say she had to go. They cut off the union’s head to make a point.”
In addition, the Parks Department has 262 CSEA employees, he said.
“Her removal seems unreasonable to us,” he said. “She was targeted, and removed. It seems retaliatory.”
County spokesman Phil Oliva declined comment. In December, Astorino spokeswoman Donna Greene, in a written statement, said Pecora’s job was eliminated because the union failed to accede to Astorino’s plea that the union agree to pay a portion of their health-care premiums. Her job was eliminated on the recommendation of the parks commissioner, based on her assessment of staffing needs, Greene wrote.
Pecora, who on Wednesday attended Board of Legislators Chairman Ken Jenkins’ kick-off for his campaign for county executive, said she wants to return to her post to represent the county’s work force. She chided the administration on its negotiating tactics.
“Negotiations should consist of proposals and counter-proposals,” she said. “They just make demands. It’s demeaning.”
Rylewicz said Pecora’s layoff will have a chilling effect on union activism. Pecora was elected by the CSEA membership in 2009, and a new election is set for May, 2013. If Pecora does not get reinstated, she would be ineligible to run for re-election.
“Who would want the position in the future?” Rylewicz said. “If someone had aspirations to become president, but they see that Karen gets laid off while being on full release, why would they put themselves out? They need to support their family. It’s bad all around.”
CSEA Southern Region President Billy Riccaldo said Pecora’s layoff should not stand.
“The county’s blatant singling out of the union president has a chilling effect on the union and sends a very threatening message to county workers that they could be next if they speak out for their rights,” he said. “CSEA representatives reminded the county’s representatives of the legal implications of the anti-union animus, but they chose to proceed with targeting Ms. Pecora in spite of the clearly written provision in the Taylor Law warning of this very circumstance.”
Photo: Former CSEA Unit 9200 President Karen Pecora, left, with fellow CSEA union official, on Ken Jenkins for Westchester kick-off event at Crowne Plaza in White Plains. /David McKay Wilson