The Town of Islip hit a major road block in its plan to reduce costs of its vehicle fleet: a state administrative law judge ruled 45 workers can keep town-owned vehicles to commute between work and their homes.

The ruling–if upheld on appeal by the Public Employment Relations Board–could affect cash-strapped municipalities and school districts across New York.

Administrative Law Judge Elena Cacavas ruled March 1 that the Town of Islip could not unilaterally change its policy on take-home cars in 2008. She said that although the Teamsters Local 237 contract was silent on take-home vehicles, some town employees had been allowed to use town vehicles for commuting for more than 20 years, thus establishing a “past practice” (here).

She ordered the town to “restore the vehicle assignments for commutation between home and work to those unit members who enjoyed the benefit”. She also ruled the town must reimburse employees added costs they incurred commuting to work since 2008.

Town officials say reassigning cars to 36 employees (nine are no longer employed) would cost more than $130,000 a year (here).

Newsday quotes Town Supervisor Phil Nolan saying the 2008 vehicle policy “was in the best interests of taxpayers.”

“These vehicles are town-owned vehicles for town purposes. Our charge was to tighten up all these things and ensure the taxpayers were getting the maximum bang for their buck.” But Barry Peek, the attorney for Local 237, said, “There are certain things you can reform unilaterally and some things, you can’t. You have to sit down and bargain.”

Nolan said the take-home vehicles are a relic of past administrations. Though town policy has always stated that vehicles should go only to elected officials and employees who need to respond to emergencies or work at multiple sites, over time the list of eligible employees had expanded.

Among the employees allowed to use town cars for commuting were golf course groundskeepers, custodians, computer programmers and assessment assistants.

The town still could negotiate changes with the Teamsters Local 237, which represents blue and white-collar workers.

Added John Burns, Long Island director of Teamsters Local 237: “There’s no way I’m going to get sympathy from taxpayers right now. People are losing jobs and health care, and we’re talking about giving people back cars so they can drive from work to home.”

Originally Published: NY Public Payroll Watch

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