The majority of the state Public Employees Federation chose to protect their wages and benefits at the expense of 3,500 colleagues and fellow union members who face losing their jobs after the union rejected a contract settlement calling for concessions to avoid layoffs.
Members of the second-largest union of state employees turned down a labor pact their leadership had reached in July to save all their jobs and $450 million. The agreement called for a three-year wage freeze followed by 2 percent raises in the next two years, although workers would have received bonuses during the freeze. Employees would have picked up a higher share of their health insurance costs on a sliding scale tied to salary. The deal also called for the first-ever furlough of five unpaid days this year and four furlough days in 2012-13 to be paid when the contract expires.
PEF leadership was unable to sell the pact to the rank-and-file, which ignored Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo’s layoff warnings. Fifty-four percent of union members said no to the same terms agreed to by the Civil Service Employees Union, the state’s largest union. PEF President Kenneth Brynien said union members felt the cuts were “just too many” and “too deep.” The membership, he said, felt it was being asked to sacrifice too much. But they were not out of line with what private-sector workers have had to accept to save their jobs. Public employees were being asked to do the same in accepting a wage freeze and greater contributions to their benefits package.
Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo urged the union to reconsider as his administration moved forward with layoff plans. This year’s budget called for saving $450 million either through attrition or layoffs.
In a New York Post opinion piece, E.J. McMahon of the Manhattan Institute’s Empire Center for New York State Policy explained possible reasons behind the union’s rejection of the proposal. Under current state law, provisions of a public-sector contract remain in effect after the contract expires, he wrote. Public employees receive annual “step” increases on the salary schedule while terms of benefits such as health insurance also continue until a new contract is negotiated, however long that might take.
PEF members will continue to get some pay raises with protected health insurance benefits — at least those who will still have jobs.
The better course would be to approve the contract.