By Jennifer Golson
NEW YORK (Reuters) - A New York state appeals court on Thursday cleared the way for the New York City Health and Hospitals Corporation to lay off 144 carpenters, electricians and laborers, ruling that it is not the judiciary's role to make such staffing decisions.
Mayor Michael Bloomberg had lost the first round.
Three labor unions had filed a petition in the Supreme Court of New York County, insisting that the job cuts by the Health and Hospitals Corporation, known as the HCC, would create an unsafe condition for patients and the staff members who continued to work at the facilities.
Last December, Supreme Court Justice Alice Schlesinger issued a permanent injunction blocking the layoffs, according to the appeals court decision. The Appellate Division, First Department, the state's mid-level court, ruled HHC failed to assess the potential impact the layoffs would have on safety.
HHC runs the nation's biggest public hospital system, with 11 hospitals, and its clients are mostly low-income patients.
Bloomberg had bashed the lower court for blocking cost savings.
Schlesinger remanded the matter back to the HHC for further evaluation, but in a unanimous decision, the appeals court said: "Neither the petitioners nor the courts should be permitted to substitute their judgment for the discretionary management of the public business by public officials, as neither have been lawfully charged with that responsibility."
Associate Justice John Sweeny, writing for the court, continued: "... the court improperly inserted itself into executive branch decision-making by interfering with HHC's exercise of its statutory authority,"
Corporation Counsel Michael Cardozo, head of the New York City Law Department, called the ruling "extremely important."
"Since these three cases began, the trial court's orders have cost HHC $1.1 million per month for 10 months -- over $10 million -- a sum HHC can never recover," Cardozo said. "As today's decision makes clear, judges must let municipal agencies and public benefit corporations carry out their responsibilities to make extremely difficult -- but nonetheless lawful -- managerial decisions. The separation of powers doctrine, as Justice Sweeny pointed out, demands no less."
Robert Burzichelli, a partner with Greenberg Burzichelli Greenberg, who represented the electricians, said his clients will discuss "what we can do regarding this recent setback. No decision has been made yet."
"I hope that the HHC still sits down with us to talk about proper staffing levels, given what we revealed in court, at least," he added.
(Editing by Joan Gralla and Jan Paschal)