Gov. Cuomo, Public Employees Federation still working to avoid layoffs

Oct 14, 2011

Governor Andrew Cuomo and the state worker union, the Public Employees Federation, are going down to the wire over a deal to forge a new contract agreement  or face 3500 lay offs. 

Governor Cuomo, in his ten months in office, has made it a point to follow through with his campaign promises, and  threats.

“I’m going to do what I said I was going to do,” the governor said recently, speaking of his intention to follow through with his agenda in general.

 Now, those words could present a political difficulty.

Cuomo, back in January, said state worker unions would have to accept concessions, including a three year pay freeze and higher costs for health care coverage, to save the state nearly half a billion
dollars, or face up to 10,000 lay offs.  The state’s largely blue collar union, CSEA, reluctantly accepted those terms, and voted for a new contract. But the union of higher paid professional workers, the Public Employees Federation, rejected a similar offer on September 27th.

Steve Greenberg, with Siena College polling and a political analyst, says Cuomo faces a quandary.

“The governor is in a tight spot,” said Greenberg. “He clearly does not want to see people laid off. ”

But Greenberg says, on the other hand, Cuomo “has sent a clear message”, that it’s either a contract with give backs, or layoffs. In contrast, Cuomo’s focus in the past few months, since the legislative session ended, is on job creation. He’s set up regional economic development councils all over the state to jump start new business. On Thursday, his Lieutenant Governor, Robert Duffy, delivered that message to a convention of minority and women owned businesses seeking state contracts.

“This is how we create jobs,” Duffy told the group. “This is how we create economic opportunities. ”

The economy is now much worse than in January, when Cuomo first issued his ultimatum, and even since late March when the previous contracts first expired.

Greenberg says letting go workers, of any kind, only contributes to what many view as a long term recession.

“It doesn’t match that message, to say ‘I’m trying to create new jobs as I’m fire 3500 state workers’,” Greenberg said.

Cuomo has said repeatedly in recent days that he does not want to go through with the lay offs.

“On the human level I don’t want to see 3500 people or so laid off,” Cuomo said. “I don’t want to see 3500 families go through that.”

He has offered to “tweak” the contracts, to perhaps require higher paid employees to pay more for health insurance, while sparing lower paid workers, as long as the new plan is “revenue neutral” and does not cost the state more money.

And Cuomo has left the door open to postponing the lay offs for a time. PEF’s executive board is due to meet on Monday, October 17th, to examine any new proposal that could be worked out in the coming
days. PEF leaders have said if the board were to okay a new contract vote, it would take at least two weeks to poll all of the members.

In the meantime, the governor says, it won’t really be his fault if 3500 workers lose their jobs. He says the union knew his position from the beginning, and has the power to change the outcome now by
agreeing to a compromise.

“It is up to PEF,” the governor said.

Greenberg says it’s true that Cuomo is unlikely to be blamed.

“I don’t think the governor is going to take political heat if the layoffs occur,” Greenberg said.

He says as long as Cuomo showed that he tried to work with the union, he earns points. For now, both the governor and union leaders say the talks are “ongoing”.