Tuesday, September 27, 2011


Albany, N.Y.--When the 56,000-member Public Employees Federation tallies the results of its contract ratification vote later today, the layoffs of more than 3,000 members could hang in the balance.

Whatever way it goes, the vote will bring a degree of closure to a summer of on-again, off-again layoff scares among a large portion of New York's state workforce.

The PEF balloting follows August's ratification of a nearly identical five-year contract by the 66,000-member Civil Service Employees Association. That vote was approved by a 59-41 percent margin.

In exchange, Gov. Andrew Cuomo said CSEA members would be shielded from budget-driven layoffs. The labor agreement helps the administration hit its savings targets for 2010-11 budget year.

Initially, the administration threatened to fire up to 9,800 people statewide if it couldn't achieve $450 million in workforce savings during the current fiscal year, which runs through the end of March 2012.

Budget officials later said that some of the savings would be pushed into the following budget year, but Cuomo has been adamant that a no vote would spark layoffs.

In fact, the administration began the layoff process in July, sending out preliminary notices to PEF members who had relatively low seniority. Those layoff warnings were rescinded in July pending the ratification vote.

Ratification ballots were mailed out Sept. 2 and due back yesterday. They will be counted in New York City by members of the American Arbitration Association. PEF President Ken Brynien is expected to announce the results this Tuesday afternoon.

PEF members have complained that the offer -- which includes furloughs, three years without raises and higher health care costs -- would penalize them financially.

The deal, however, also included a $1,000 bonus in the third year and 2 percent raises in the last two years, as well as the layoff protections.

The layoff issue may have pitted more senior workers against those with the least seniority who would be the first to lose their jobs.

Senior workers have complained that the lack of raises could affect their pensions, which are based upon salary from their three top-earning years. Some have also maintained that there are no blanket layoff protections, since job losses emerging from the recommendations of a special commission to help streamline state government are excluded; these reductions, however, would have to be approved by the Legislature.

Newer workers, however, could find themselves in what has been described as one of the worst job markets since the Great Depression.

For much of the past month PEF leaders have been traveling the state, meeting with union members in hopes of getting a yes vote. Dissidents, however, want to see the contract voted down, with several starting up websites against the proposed deal.

As of last weekend, sources said the Cuomo administration was updating its layoff lists -- which change constantly due to retirements -- and the new notices could go out this week.

With the state's strict seniority-based rules and other guidelines governing job cuts, any mass cut would be complicated.

That would be doubly true if cuts were targeted just to PEF. The state has numerous jobs or career paths in which members of the more blue-collar CSEA have been promoted into managerial or technical positions represented by PEF.

Additionally, layoffs involve the complex process of "bumping," in which more senior employees can replace those with less time on the job, even if it means the senior person retreats to a lower-paying position.

In a radio interview Monday, the governor says he remains hopeful that layoffs can be prevented, but "either way it's going to be manageable for us."

Even if PEF members approve their contract, the layoff threat wouldn't disappear entirely from the public workforce. The administration recently suggested in an email to state agency heads that layoffs could hit other unions such as United University Professions, which represents faculty and professional employees in the state university system, and the state Corrections Officers & Police Benevolent Association, which represents prison guards.

Both have unresolved contracts: UUP is in talks to renew the agreement that expired earlier in the year, and NYSCOBA has been in arbitration over a contract dispute dating back several years.

NYSCOBA officials couldn't be reached on Monday. UUP spokesman Don Feldstein said his union has been in contract talks with the administration.

What's at stake

The ratification of a five-year contract with the Public Employees Federation, the state's second largest union at 56,000 members. Ballots will be counted Tuesday, with an announcement expected around 2 p.m.

If it's approved

The contract calls for three years without broad-based salary increases, followed by two years of 2 percent increases.

There will be two furlough periods, although pay for the second unpaid vacation will be paid back to workers by the end of the contract.

PEF employees are protected from layoffs arising from the currently forecast budget deficit for two years.

Health insurance costs will rise for current workers and PEF retirees.

If it's rejected:

The Cuomo administration has told state agencies to update layoff lists in order to move swiftly on more than 3,000 reductions within PEF's ranks. The state is required to give workers 20 days' notice.

The provisions of the current contract between the state and PEF would remain in place due to the Triborough Amendment, which locks in pre-existing terms and working conditions during arbitration.

Reporting by Rick Karlin at 454-5758 or rkarlin@timesunion.com

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