New York governor pressures union with more layoffs

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 07, 2011 6:54 PM
New York governor pressures union with more layoffs

By Dan Wiessner

NEW YORK (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo ramped up the pressure on union officials to concede hundreds of millions of dollars in savings on Thursday with the delivery of layoff notices to more than 300 state workers.

The 321 workers receiving the lay notices are members of the Public Employee Federation (PEF), the state's second-largest public employee union, which publicly rejected some of Cuomo's proposals earlier this year.

The union is continuing labor talks with the state. The new layoff notices come on top of 450 layoffs announced last week. All the layoffs are scheduled to take effect on July 28.

Cuomo, a Democrat, had threatened 9,800 layoffs unless unions concede $450 million in savings from wages and benefits to help close a $10 billion deficit without new taxes or debt.

Cuomo, like several of his peers, has taken on public unions, using layoffs or wage and benefit cuts, though unions traditionally support Democrats. Unlike Wisconsin and New Jersey, Cuomo has not curbed collective bargaining rights.

New York has 132,000 state workers.

A PEF spokeswoman said Cuomo should hold off on handing out pink slips while negotiations continue.

"We're not happy that our members and their families are being threatened with losing their job security while we're still at the table," spokeswoman Darcy Wells said.

Last month, the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), the state's largest public union, reached an tentative accord with the state that includes a three-year wage freeze and higher employee health care contributions. The deal, which must be ratified next month, will shield CSEA members from layoffs.

Cuomo has tried to use the CSEA deal to force a compromise from PEF and other unions, but PEF President Ken Brynien has framed those proposals as painful, long-term solutions to the state's short-term fiscal problems.

Cuomo's office did not return requests for comment. In a memo sent to agency heads on Thursday, the director of state operations who leads the labor talks, Howard Glaser, said he was "hopeful" more unions would make the same concessions as CSEA.

"There is no path to fiscal stability in New York that does not address work force spending," wrote Glaser.

The hardest-hit agency in Thursday's round of layoffs was the Department of Environmental Conservation, which will lose 43 employees. The agency has already lost hundreds of workers over the last decade, including 139 in December.

Environmental advocates said they were concerned that the cutbacks could affect regulation of hydraulic fracturing, a controversial method of natural-gas drilling that could be allowed in New York as early as next year.

"Without proper staff levels, the regulations are not worth the paper they're written on," said Kate Sinding, senior attorney at the Natural Resources Defense Council.

DEC spokeswoman Emily DeSantis said the layoffs would not harm the agency's ability to regulate hydraulic fracturing.

"Any layoffs required as part of achieving workforce savings will have no impact on the review, monitoring and enforcement of activities associated with hydraulic fracturing. None of the affected individuals are part of DEC's oil and gas program," DeSantis said by email.

(Editing by Joan Gralla and Leslie Adler)