New York’s powerful public worker unions took the state to court Tuesday in what could become a costly and lengthy battle to stop one-day-a-week furloughs for state employees.
The Public Employees Federation and the Civil Service Employees Association unions, representing hundreds of thousands of white- and blue-collar workers, are seeking a temporary restraining order to block the cost-saving measure approved by the Legislature Monday night.
That’s the first step in the court challenge to furloughs for about 100,000 state workers, which the union argues would violate their labor contracts. Many lawmakers who reluctantly authorized the furloughs said in floor speeches that the unions will likely win in court.
Other states, including California, have resorted to furloughs and faced lawsuits. In some cases, courts overturned them and required states to repay workers for the lost time. But the terms of furloughs and labor agreements differ state-to-state.
Gov. David Paterson said the furloughs are needed because the unions have rejected every other call to sacrifice and help the state out of its fiscal crisis, including suspending their annual raises of 4 to 7 percent. Paterson has so far avoided layoffs as part of an agreement with unions on a lower cost pension plan for future hires.
The independent Citizens Budget Commission said the “savings are urgently needed and labor is one of the right areas of the budget in which to seek them.” It said the work force is too big to afford, and a pay freeze is needed.
“Labor representatives must begin to be partners in the solution rather than courtroom adversaries,” said Carol Kellermann, the commission’s president. “There are alternatives to forced furloughs that have the benefit of providing significant savings for more than one year.”
She said Albany has for too long made promises to unions and other special interests that its taxpayers can’t afford. Unions representing public workers are among the highest spending lobbies and campaign contributors in Albany.
“CSEA will doing everything we can to protect the rights of our members and the services they provide to the people of New York,” said the union’s president, Danny Donohue. “Governor David Paterson’s plan is misguided and will create chaos and crisis.”
Public Employees Federation President Ken Brynien called the furloughs illegal.
Paterson said furloughs are unavoidable given the $9.2 billion deficit the state must close in a budget that is already more than a month late.
“The budget that I have proposed reflects the principle of shared sacrifice,” Paterson said. “It includes tough, but necessary cuts across every single area of state spending. At a time of unprecedented fiscal crisis, every single organization and individual that relies upon state funding needs to make sacrifices. Unfortunately, however, all we’ve heard so far from the leadership of our state’s public employee unions are expletives and excuses.”
Furloughs would mean a 20 percent pay cut, likely until a budget is negotiated by the governor and Legislature. The average state worker is paid $64,164 in the work force of nearly 300,000. About 23,000 make more than $100,000. Paterson said furloughs will save $30 million a week.
By Michael Gormley,Associated Press Writer
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press.