New York State Workers Mull Strength of Layoff Protections
By Melissa Maynard, Staff Writer
How much protection does "layoff protection" provide? That is the question in New York , where union leaders are urging state workers to ratify contracts that include layoff protections in exchange for furloughs, wage freezes and increased health insurance costs.
A careful read of contract language has left some workers worried that layoffs may be likely even if they ratify the agreement, reports the Times Union of Albany. The contract with the state's largest labor union, the Civil Service Employees Association, says there won't be layoffs in the next two years. However, it says that "material or unanticipated changes in the state's fiscal circumstances, financial plan or revenue will result in potential layoffs." It also says that "workforce reductions due to the closure or restructuring of facilities, as authorized by legislation or Spending and Government Efficiency Commission determinations, are excluded from limitations." Similar language is included in the contract with the second largest labor union representing state workers, the Public Employees Federation.
The commission the contracts refer to is known in Albany as the SAGE Commission. Democratic Governor Andrew Cuomo created it by executive order to recommend government efficiencies — suggestions that, thanks to a deal Cuomo brokered with lawmakers, must be considered by the legislature. The body has been given a charge to "modernize and right-size state government" by streamlining organizational structure, identifying opportunities for shared services and better use of information technology, and zeroing out governmental activities and programs that aren't mission critical.
State workers fear that "right-sizing" is code for "layoffs." But the governor's office told the Times Union that the exemption in no way undermines the promise of no layoffs. "The point of the SAGE Commission and facility closures is not to lay people off — it's to redesign and streamline government," says Josh Vlasto, a Cuomo spokesman. "The no-layoff protection could not be more clear or stronger."
Earlier this year, Cuomo warned that up to 9,800 layoffs would be necessary if $450 million in labor savings failed to materialize through concessions. A few hundred layoff notices were mailed but later rescinded after labor leaders agreed to one of the deals now up for consideration.
The results of rank-and-file voting of the CSEA will be announced on August 15; PEF will begin voting in early September, with results to be announced on September 27.