NY and Connecticut governors push unions on layoffs

Reuters News
Posted: Jul 08, 2011 7:38 PM
NY and Connecticut governors push unions on layoffs

NEW YORK (Reuters) - Though the governors of New York and Connecticut parted company on some of their budget-fixing strategies, both Democrats are still struggling to persuade their unionized workers to accept cuts.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo and Connecticut Governor Dannel Malloy on Friday both faulted what they see as the unions' preference for thousands of layoffs over accepting harsh concessions, from wage freezes to benefit changes.

The layoffs planned by the two neighboring states, which compete fiercely for employers, give weight to economists' forecasts that cash-strapped states, counties, cities and towns are undermining the recovery -- already surprisingly soft -- by slashing their workforces.

Malloy, who says he tried to make everyone share in the sacrifices needed to balance the budget by cutting spending and raising taxes, including income taxes for the wealthy, told reporters "large scale layoff notices" could go out Tuesday.

About 6,500 positions will be cut to close a $700 million deficit, Malloy said. "I have never hidden my desire not to be having, not be engaged, in large-scale layoffs."

Connecticut has about 45,000 unionized workers; some of its 5,000 managers also could be laid off, as Malloy also is consolidating agencies.

Asked what services will be cut, Malloy responded: "A little bit of everything...I don't think there are any areas of government that will be unaffected." He added he would be "loath" to close beaches and parks, a tack taken by some other states, most notably California, which shut 70 parks.

Malloy showed little interest in reopening the union talks, saying: "Been there; done that."

Yet Spokesman Matt O'Connor of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition said Malloy's negotiator contacted his union counterpart about resuming talks. "We are confident we are going to find a path forward; we're certainly not giving up when the consequences are so catastrophic," he said.

Most of Connecticut's unions accepted Malloy's deal, though the concessions include fewer sick days. The accord failed because more than one union rejected it. Connecticut's budget assumes the savings from the layoffs will start on September 1.

Like Malloy, Cuomo's new budget cut spending though New York's governor raised no taxes and he got the biggest union to accept his offer though it raised health care premiums. But talks with the second-biggest union, the Public Employee Federation (PEF), have snarled and nearly 800 layoff notices recently were sent to its members.

New York's governor manages about 132,000 workers.

Cuomo told Talk 1300, an Albany radio show, that PEF's rejection of his proposal "lacks credibility" because it was accepted by the Civil Service Employees Association.

"That's the pressure they're feeling. We don't want to do any layoffs," Cuomo said. In spurning his offer, Cuomo said "The union would have to say 'We would rather do layoffs, and lay off our own members, than agree to a contract.'"

Though Cuomo said both unions were offered the same deal, PEF President Kenneth Brynien said the latest offer had significant differences, especially for health benefits. "It's disappointing to see the state continuing to use the threat of layoffs to hold hostage our members, their families and the state services on which New Yorkers rely," he added.

(Reporting by Joan Gralla in New York and Dan Wiessner in Albany; Editing by Andrew Hay)