NY public workers union dodges layoffs in new pact

Reuters News
Posted: Jun 22, 2011 5:40 PM
NY public workers union dodges layoffs in new pact

NEW YORK (Reuters) - One of New York state's biggest public employee unions said on Wednesday it reached a preliminary agreement with Governor Andrew Cuomo on a pact to avoid lay-offs.

Cuomo, a Democrat who closed an approximately $10 billion budget deficit without raising taxes, had threatened to lay off as many as 9,800 state workers unless they accepted $450 million of concessions. The tentative deal comes after various public workers unions held heated demonstrations around the state against crackdowns on their pay and benefits.

The Civil Service Employees Association and Cuomo said in a joint statement that the accord skips across-the-board wage hikes in fiscal 2011 and 2012 but gives workers a $1,000 lump sum payment spread over the next two years. Workers also will get 2 percent across-the-board wage hikes in both 2014 and 2015.

The union, which has about 66,000 members, said the five-year accord includes unspecified job security assurances and five unpaid furlough days in 2011 and four the following year. The amount workers contribute for health care premiums rises from 2 percent to 6 percent, depending on rank.

Unlike other states such as Wisconsin and New Jersey, New York has not pushed to end or curb collective bargaining rights, though it also is eager to curb the cost of its public payroll. New York also has an unusual advantage over its cash-strapped peers: the state retirement fund is almost fully funded.

The labor accord is a victory for the first-term New York governor, who has persuaded the legislature to accept much of his agenda. Most recently, he won accords to extend rules regulating about one million rental apartments and capping property tax increases at 2 percent annually.

The main outstanding issue on the legislature's agenda is whether New York becomes the sixth state to approve gay marriage.

New York's public employee unions have urged Cuomo to prune the use of often highly paid outside contractors or consultants. The new accord would create a committee to examine whether the roles can be done by state workers.

Wednesday's accord would have to be ratified by the legislature and the union members.

"I commend the union and its leadership for making a significant contribution to help get the state's fiscal house in order and making the shared sacrifices these difficult times require," Cuomo said.

(Reporting by Joan Gralla, additional reporting by Dan Wiessner in Albany; Editing by Dan Grebler)