Gov. Paterson Looks to “Sinister” Union Heads for NY State Layoffs-by-the-Thousands Woes


New York Governor David Paterson is now talking about laying off thousands of state workers as part of a plan to balance the state budget. And he just brought some state workers’ union leaders into the fold, by talking some serious smack on them.

See, last night, one of New York Gov. Paterson’s senior administration officials told the New York Times that Paterson would start to direct state agencies to pick which of their employees could be sacrificed as part of a budget balancing plan to lay off thousands of state workers beginning Jan. 1, 2011.

The plan comes on the heels of a federal judge stamping out Paterson’s proposal to make state workers take a furlough one day of the work week to save money (a plan which was brought to court by union leaders). Paterson’s even talking about breaking his “no layoffs before January 2011” pledge that he made last June with the two prominent state workers’ unions, the Civil Service Employees Association and the Public Employees Federation. Which is pretty incidental — or not — given the fact that he’s laying down the aforementioned smack talk on union officials today. Via the Albany Times-Union, from a press conference Paterson held earlier today:

Noting that state workers unions have so far resisted every alternative for concessions, Paterson admitted to having “a sinister feeling about the heads of some of these unions: When people are laid off, they can’t vote in union elections anymore. So, your know, sometimes I wonder if I haven’t been pushed into this.”

After his judicial setback last week in the suit brought by those same union leaders over the furlough plan, Paterson suggested that he was not at this point moving to overturn last summer’s memorandum of understanding his representative signed with CSEA and PEF, securing a no-layoffs pledge in exchange for the unions’ support for a Tier V pension plan. But Paterson didn’t take that option off the table…Paterson insisted he was not using the development of a layoff plan as a new bargaining chip in his ongoing poker game with public employee unions.

One union official responded in kind:

CSEA President Danny Donohue issued a statement that it was “unfortunate” that Paterson “continues to engage in threats and counterproductive rhetoric instead of focusing on securing a budget that will work for all the people of New York. It’s also interesting that the Governor is making his threats against dedicated state employees at the same time that Kelly Services is advertising for temporary jobs to work in state agencies despite a state hiring freeze and other drastic measures being put forth.”

At this point, though, Paterson’s correct in that our state’s completely broke, and it might be worth wondering if a union leader crowing about temp jobs (a necessary part of the workforce) in the face of a proposal that could very well mean thousands of layoffs for state workers instead of making them all lose one day of pay per week is the most productive, responsible, or at the very least, topical response on their part. Paterson has nothing to gain, no political favor, nothing to fight for other than to do the best job he can on his way out the door. Union leadership are always fighting for their jobs, and always on the defense with their constituency, who they don’t want to remove them from their high-paying gigs.

How high-paying? Well, Donohue currently makes $182,000 a year. As for what he has on the line besides that salary (that Paterson doesn’t)? Try a higher-paying gig: Donohue is running for a national union position as the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ secretary-treasurer, a gig that nets its holder $319,000. William Lucy, who holds the position now, announced his retirement in February, endorsing Donohue for office. By staying firm on employees getting paid five days a week, Donohue can keep union members in his favor for the upcoming AFSCME election. By the time Donohue’s got the better paying gig, some of those who found his steadfast position against the furloughs something to love might actually be getting laid off because of that position. It wouldn’t all line up so perfectly if Paterson had more than nothing to lose, which he doesn’t.

“Sinister?” It can’t be proven. But this is one instance where Paterson certainly holds the talking stick vis-a-vis long-term gains (or losses) for state workers, while Donohue finds himself with a need to play politics that’d position him for short-term gains with union members, and get out of dodge before shit really hits the fan. Whether or not that’s what he’s actually doing, only Donohue knows. But union members who want to keep their jobs shouldn’t rule out questioning their leadership right now. It only makes sense.