Union President Hopes to Avoid Layoffs After Contract Rejection

Sep 30, 2011


Two days after one of the state’s two major worker unions rejected a contract, the Public Employees Federation President says he has “new ideas” for a contract settlement, and is anxious to meet with
Governor Cuomo to discuss options to avert the 3500 layoffs ordered by the governor.

Cuomo has asked the state’s second largest employee union to vote again on the same contract, which was defeated by 54% to 46% of the nearly three quarters of union members who cast ballots, saying the
union should “reconsider”. Cuomo’s Director of State Operations blamed union leadership for the contract failure, and said lay off notices would be sent immediately. The combined message from the Cuomo Administration is that a second vote on the same contract offer is the only way to rescind the nearly 3500 lay off notices that have already been distributed. PEF spokeswoman Darcy Wells says holding another vote on the same deal likely won’t make a difference.

“There’s no reason to believe our members would vote any differently,” said Wells.

Wells says the union instead has asked for more talks with the Cuomo Administration, to try to negotiate a new contract, with fewer concessions.  Union President Ken Brynien said in a statement that PEF has some “new ideas”.

The rejected deal called for greater employee contributions for health care, multi day furloughs for the next two years, and a three year wage freeze with 2% pay increases in years four and five.  Wells says union members are willing to make sacrifices, just not those particular concessions, and that the leadership is anxious to begin new talks.

“We’re really focused on this very small window that we have,” said Wells, who says workers who have received pink slips have been told their last day of work will be October 19th.

The lay offs would most heavily impact the prisons department and the agency responsible for the developmentally disabled.  And Wells says at least two PEF members from Broome County who lost their homes in the recent floods  have also been notified that they will now lose their jobs. Others on the lay off list have suffered severe flood damage to their properties, and she says some targeted for
elimination at the Department of Transportation  have spent the last month helping flood victims, as part of their duties.

Under a state law known as the Triborough Amendment, the provisions of the now expired previous contract still hold. There will be no health care premium increases, and no furloughs, and around half of
PEF members scheduled to get what’s known as step raises in the next six months would still receive those salary increases, if there’s no new contract in place by then. In exchange for those provisions,
state worker unions are not permitted to go on strike.

Wells says the vote did not come down to younger workers versus older workers.  She says those with highest seniority might not necessarily keep their jobs. The governor has already settled a similar contract
with the state’s other major union, the CSEA, and those union members are now exempt from any lay offs.  PEF workers with seniority will not be able to bump down into lower paying positions if they are held
by CSEA members.

A spokesman for Governor Cuomo says the governor’s director of State Operations Howard Glaser and PEF President Ken Brynien did talk later on Thursday, but when asked if there were any new developments, spokesman Josh Vlasto said simply, “none today”.