Showdown Possible Over NYS Worker Furlough

Albany Times Union Online
By CASEY SEILER, State editor
First published in print: Thursday, April 29, 2010

ALBANY — As the budget languishes, Gov. David Paterson and the Legislature could be headed for a showdown over state worker furloughs.

Just hours before lawmakers gaveled out on another three-day week that saw little progress on the state’s 2010-2011 fiscal plan, Paterson said he was prepared to put his furlough plan into the one-week budget extender bill that he’ll send to the Legislature at the end of next week — a move that could lead to a government shutdown if the emergency budget measure is rejected by the Senate or Assembly.

Administration officials said while the governor had no hard plans to put the furlough into next week’s extender, the option is being seriously considered.

Paterson first proposed the measure, which could save roughly $30 million for every week it remains in place, on Tuesday. About 100,000 state workers could be put on furlough in the plan.

At the same time, he asked the Legislature to give his amended executive budget proposal an up-or-down vote.

The Legislature left town Wednesday without acting. It is not expected back until Monday.

Both chambers expressed legal concerns about the proposal.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver said while the governor has “absolute control” over the size of the state work force, case law suggests he lacked the power to compel furloughs.

“If he doesn’t have the authority on the furloughs, the Legislature doesn’t have the authority either to give to him,” said Silver, who noted California state workers had sued to win back pay for their unpaid days off.

“I don’t think we want to get into that position here,” he said.

Austin Shafran, spokesman for the Senate Democratic majority, said there were “substantial legal issues with the Paterson’s proposal to reduce hours for workers under a collectively bargained contract.”

“Nobody seems to want to do anything except distract everybody from what the problems are,” Paterson said in a news conference.

The governor said there have been no meetings or conference panels to move the budget process, resulting in near total gridlock. “I’m going to stop it, and that will require some tough decision-making on my part, and also on the part of the Legislature,” he said.

Paterson rejected the idea of simply not sending up an extender — a thermonuclear option that would effectively shut down non-essential state services.

The governor is not thinking about moving to state worker layoffs if the furlough plan fails. Last year, the governor signed a memo of understanding with CSEA and PEF, the two largest public workers unions, assuring them there would be no layoffs through 2010 in exchange for their support in the creation of a less-generous Tier V pension plan.

Some have said the state’s fiscal crisis could lead Paterson to overturn the agreement. Paterson’s executive budget submission counted on $250 million in to-be-negotiated work force reductions that so far have not materialized.

“My first impression is that the shared sacrifice of the many is preferred over the total sacrifice of the very few,” the governor said.

Paterson pointed out his other suggestions to achieve work force savings — a giveback of the 4 percent scheduled raise for most unionized state workers, or a one-week lag pay that workers would collect when they leave state service — were rejected by unions.

Paterson had sharp words for CSEA President Danny Donohue, who in a Tuesday news release responded to the furlough plan with a one-word answer, “Nuts,” borrowed from the U.S. general who used it to turn down a German demand for surrender during a historic battle in World War II.

“I thought it was really astounding that the leader of the union felt comfortable comparing himself to what was done in Bastogne at the Battle of the Bulge,” the governor said. ” … Now, this was a group that was really sacrificing in World War II when they were asked to surrender by the Germans. They were about to commit the ultimate sacrifice.”

Donohue has been unwilling to sacrifice anything on behalf of his membership, Paterson said.

“I really worry about a mind that feels comfortable making that comparison,” the governor said. ” … This group not only doesn’t want to do anything, they want to compare themselves as if they’re making some kind of heroic sacrifice — as if they’re on some kind of battlefield.”

Reach Casey Seiler at 454-5619 or cseiler@timesunion.com.

Read the furlough legislation at http://blog.timesunion.com/capitol.

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About Kari

I live in the Capital Region of NY, work for NYS, and am just beginning to blog. I was recently diagnosed with Fibromyalgia, so that's going to take up some content. I've been writing for as long as I can remember, and I am an opinionated person. Thus there will be some items that burn me up, that I simply want to play devil's advocate, or daily/personal items. I also Tweet (@Marilyth) when the mood strikes me in 140 characters or less. I'm doing this for fun, and I hope other appreciate the information and contribute!
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