New York Governor gets one labor accord, but truce unlikely

Reuters News
Posted: Apr 13, 2011 6:41 PM

By Dan Wiessner

ALBANY, N.Y., New York (Reuters) - New York Governor Andrew Cuomo on Wednesday announced a new contract with a law enforcement union and urged much larger public employee unions to accept the same terms or risk nearly 10,000 layoffs.

Union leaders for Council 82, which represents 1,200 university police, park rangers and environmental officers, accepted higher health care contributions and a three-year wage freeze -- with no automatic pay hikes, the Democratic governor said in a statement.

The likelihood of any near-term labor truce, however, appeared dim as the 58,000-strong Public Employees Federation said it already had rejected similar terms.

The union added that the state had made it clear that layoffs still could arise even if it accepted Cuomo's terms.

Battles between public unions and governors who must close deficits are common in the post-recession era.

Financial analysts warn that layoffs of government workers could put a dent of half a percentage point in the Gross Domestic Product.

Wisconsin's fight over collective bargaining has, for example, echoed in both New Jersey and Florida, whose Republican governors want to clamp down on teacher tenure.

In New York, Cuomo won over unionized health care workers, partly by agreeing to raise their wages as part of a broad package of health care cuts. But the governor's overall fiscal conservatism -- his $132.5 billion budget shut a $10 billion deficit without new taxes -- puts him at odds with unions.

"If similar contract terms were adopted by New York's other public employee unions, the state could achieve the $450 million in savings needed to avoid the 9,800 layoffs projected in the enacted budget," Cuomo said.

The Public Employees Federation, however, said the "state's initial offer ... would impose an unfair burden, including long-term hardships on our members and their families."

If ratified, the law enforcement union's deal would exclude sick days from the time counted for overtime and reduce the amount of unused sick leave used to set pension benefits.

(Editing by Joan Gralla and Jan Paschal)