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Unions challenge state worker furlough plan

Unionized state employees are awaiting a judges' decision as they try to block a one-day-per-week furlough imposed by Governor David Paterson and the state legislature.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - Unionized state employees are awaiting a judges' decision, as they try to block a one-day-per-week furlough imposed by Governor David Paterson and the state legislature. Union leaders claim the furlough is illegal and would be in violation of the contract workers have with the state.

CSEA Region 5 President Colleen Wheaton says the heart of the issue is a matter of fairness, a matter of balancing the budget on the backs of those who can afford it the least. "There needs to be cuts in the state budget, but it's not fair for one group to be cut, when others are not getting cut or furloughed," she said. "You have upper administration not being furloughed, you have legislators not being furloughed, the only ones being furloughed are the CSEA and PEF employees, the least paid of the whole state services."

The unions are now going to court to block it from happening, and Cornel University labor specialist Rebecca Givan says they have a very strong case. She believes it is unlikely a judge will allow the furloughs to take place. "Its pretty clear you can't just back out of a contract, so it looks likely this will be overturned as it applies to unionized workers," she said.

Workers in California also faced furloughs that were overturned in court after the furloughs took place. Those workers were given back pay to make up for the wages they lost during their time off from work.

Public worker unions fight NY furloughs

ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) - 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.

How local Representatives voted

Representative Party Vote
State Senate
Sen. Dave Valesky (D) Yes
Sen. John DeFrancisco (R) No
Sen. Darrel Aubertine (D) Yes
State Assembly
Bill Magnarelli (D) Yes
Al Stirpe (D) Yes
Joan Christensen (D) Yes
Will Barclay (R) No

Statement from Governor Paterson:

"I commend the Legislature for approving my emergency appropriations legislation, which will ensure the continued orderly operation of government and achieve necessary workforce savings through State employee furloughs. Over the next week, I will work closely with my agency commissioners to expeditiously implement these furloughs in a manner that both reduces taxpayer costs and minimizes any potential impact on public services.

"The budget that I have proposed reflects the principle of shared sacrifice. 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.

"I recognize that these furloughs represent a difficult sacrifice for many of the State's public employees. That sacrifice is only necessary because their union leadership has rejected all other reasonable attempts at compromise. One such proposal that I put forward is to eliminate a scheduled 4-to-7 percent general salary increase for State employees, which I believe is a fair concession at a time when more than a quarter of million New Yorkers in the private sector have lost their jobs and other local public employee unions across the State are reopening their contracts. These furloughs were a last resort.

"In the days ahead, the special interests will use every tool at their disposal to try and prevent me from doing what is necessary to put our State's fiscal house in order. My only objective is to help New York turn the corner on this fiscal crisis and that goal guides every decision I make as Governor. And I will continue to make the difficult decisions needed to close our $9.2 billion deficit and put taxpayers first. The sooner our State is on a path to economic recovery, the better for every New Yorker."

Statement from PEF President Ken Brynien on Furloughs

"I am deeply disappointed the New York State Legislature has voted to authorize the illegal furlough of hardworking state employees," said PEF President Kenneth Brynien.

"The governor continues to insist that breaking contracts negotiated in good faith are the only way he can generate savings from the state work force. He knows this is untrue. PEF has provided the governor with alternative budget solutions that would avoid such hardships.

"PEF will be immediately filing for a temporary restraining order to stop the illegal furlough plan and protect our members from irreparable damage the loss of income will cause," Brynien said.

PEF is the state's second-largest state employee-union, representing 58,000 professional, technical and scientific employees.

How local state lawmakers will vote on spending bill, furloughs

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Albany (WSYR-TV) - Thousands of New York State employees held protests across the state today, rallying against the legislature's planned vote on an emergency spending bill.

If passed, about 100,000 workers would have to take one unpaid day off from work each week until a budget deal is reached.

Local lawmakers are split among party lines. State Senator John DeFrancisco, a Republican, says he will vote no to the budget extender bill, which has a provision that requires state workers take one furlough day each week until a full state budget is passed.

Paterson says he is resorting to the one-day furloughs after unions refused his earlier requests to suspend their 4-percent pay raises as well as other concessions.

Democratic State Senator Dave Valesky says he will vote yes, as well as Democratic Assemblywoman Joan Christensen and Democratic Assemblyman Al Stirpe.

Governor Paterson says he'll keep the forced furloughs in place every week until the legislature approves a state budget, but union workers argue the move is illegal.

The Civil Service Employees Association and Public Employees Federation organized simultaneous protests in Albany; Buffalo; Elmira; Hornell, Steuben County; Rochester; Binghamton; Utica; Poughkeepsie; Manhattan; the Bronx; Brooklyn; Long Island; and Watertown.

Paterson wants $250 million in concessions from unions to close a $9 billion budget deficit.

Paterson says he will stop the furloughs, scheduled to begin the week of May 17, if unions agree to other concessions.

NewsChannel 9's Kim Brown is in the State Capitol and will have live coverage beginning on NewsChannel 9 at 5:00.

Governor sends budget bill and furlough plan to legislature<BR>May 7

Albany (WSYR-TV) - Governor Paterson has sent his emergency budget bill to the legislature and, as he promised, it includes a plan to force most state employees to take one day of furlough each week. The emergency bill is meant to cover state expenses until the legislature can pass a budget for the whole year.

The 30-page bill, called Program Bill #250, is most notable for including a furlough program the Governor first proposed in late April. Under the program, employees of the executive branch would be required to reduce their work week by one day, and cut their salary accordingly. Paterson has previously said the furloughs could save the state $30 million per week.

A memorandum accompanying the bill says, "This furlough addresses a necessary component of the Governor's financial plan to bring the State's finances into balance for the State Fiscal Year 2010-11, and is needed to ensure the State has sufficient cash flow in the absence of an enacted budget."

According to the memo, some employees would be exempt from the furloughs. Those include employees designated as managerial/confidential, or those whose positions are fully funded by the federal government. Agency heads are also authorized to exempt other employees based on the criteria that their duties be necessary for the preservation of health or safety. Lastly, the furlough would not apply to any employee who negotiates an agreement providing equivalent savings.

Other sections of the bill provide money for various specific expenditures and projects.

The bill now goes to the legislature. Upon its approval, the money will be transferred to the Comptroller to be paid out to the various departments.
Syracuse (WSYR-TV) - With no state budget deal anywhere in sight, tens of thousands of state workers are looking at the real possibility of furloughs. The Governor says unless an agreement is reached by the end of the week, he'll need to require workers take one unpaid day a week until a deal is done. Paterson plans to include that plan in the latest budget extender bill on Monday to keep government running, and most Central New York lawmakers are reluctantly planning to okay the extender.

Construction equipment sits idle and so do many workers at companies like Suit-Kote, a business that does road repairs for the state. It is just one casualty of the state budget stalemate that doesn't show any signs of breaking.

"I think there's really three divergent ways of looking at what's needed for the State of New York at this time and I don't think we're any closer to the Senate than we are with the Governor at this point," said Assemblyman Bill Magnarelli.

The governor says without being able to issue furloughs for state workers, he won't approve any more emergency spending. That action would essentially shut down state government at almost every level.

"That's just not an option, so if it comes to that, that's what's going to have to happen, hopefully between now and then we'll have even a more aggressive negotiations towards a final budget," Senator Dave Valesky.

"The Governor asking for a day a week I think that's a lot but I think in some instances a furlough would be better than a layoff," said Assemblywoman Joan Christensen.

Not all state lawmakers are so quick to say they'll back an extender bill on Monday whether it has furlough language in it or not. "Since we're not participating, since no one knows what's happening I can't say we're going to give you another week when nothing happens week after week so I voted no in the past and I will vote no on Monday," said Senator John DeFrancisco.

DeFrancisco says it's long past time for getting down to business, and doing it in an open forum. That doesn't appear to be in the very near future, however.

"I think we're coming up with some possibilities to get some things out of the way. There's still every time you have a discussion there's one person who pops up and says I need this, or else," said Assemblyman Al Stirpe.

The unions representing state workers have made it very clear they are opposed to the plan and the Governor is facing a potential lawsuit if the furloughs are enacted May 17 as he's proposed.

Gov. says state worker furloughs could start May 17<br/>May 4

 (WSYR NewsChannel 9 )
(WSYR NewsChannel 9 )
Albany (WSYR-TV) - Governor Paterson announced today that language authorizing state worker furloughs will be included in the next round of proposed emergency appropriation bills if a final enacted budget is not passed soon.

"I have repeatedly called upon the State public employee unions to work with me to achieve critical workforce savings," Governor Paterson said in a news release from his office. "Because unions have not accepted any proposals to achieve necessary savings, I am left with no other choice but to move forward with this plan.”

The furloughs could start the week of May 17th, and would be one day a week. Workers would not be paid one day a week, and State Agencies would not be allowed to use overtime to make up for the loss of productivity, the Governor’s Office said.

Some state workers would not be affected by the furloughs: The State Budget Director would be allowed to designate which state services are “essential,” and exclude workers who perform those state services from the furloughs. Examples of these types of positions include corrections officers, state troopers, and nurses.

In addition to today’s announcement about the furloughs, the governor also put forth legislation authorizing an early retirement service.

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