N.Y. Union Negotiations Not Quite a Victory Yet

It is true that leaders of New York's Civil Service Employees Association agreed to a major pay and benefits contract. But this should not be mistaken as a victory for Gov. Cuomo or a concession from the union yet.
by | June 29, 2011

Despite most major media outlets' recent declaration that New York Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo has secured a five-year deal with the state's largest public union to avoid almost 10,000 layoffs, he has several weeks and tens of thousands of rank-and-file workers to sway before such a statement can be true.

It is true that leaders of the Civil Service Employees Association agreed to a major pay and benefits contract with Cuomo last week, but this should not be mistaken as a victory for the governor or a concession from the union yet. In order for the contract to take effect, more than half of CSEA's roughly 66,000 members must agree to it by Aug. 15.

If the contract is ratified, state workers will get a three-year freeze on their wages, be forced to take a five-day furlough this fiscal year, and have to pay more toward their health insurance. For individual coverage, those earning salaries less than $33,000 would have to contribute 12 percent -- up from 10 -- while the rest would see their premiums rise to 16 percent. The contract's total savings would amount to $73 million for this year, according to the New York Times.

Although a number of things can happen in the coming month and a half to sway members one way or the other, CSEA Director of Communications Stephen Madarasz told Governing that he's "cautiously optimistic" that the rank-and-file employees will accept the terms of the contract. For one, he says, the bargaining table included more than a dozen union members negotiating on behalf of their co-workers, so "it's not like we're doing this in a vacuum." And while Madarasz recognizes that parts of the contract are unfavorable to union members, he believes that if they look at it as a whole, they'll see that "it largely preserves the integrity of our contract, while recognizing that we're in a very challenging fiscal environment and that there has to be some shared sacrifice."

"If you're negotiating with the rules of the game [unlike Wisconsin], this is probably the best deal you can get," the Director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, Edmund J. McMahon, told the Times.

While Cuomo was shaking the hands and hearing the praises of many last week, Connecticut Gov. Dannel P. Malloy's attempt at making a deal -- which many were sure would fly with the unions -- failed. This is in part due to the different union voting structures in each state. In New York, each union operates individually. But in Connecticut, the unions must collectively agree to new contracts. In this case, four ultimately rejected it, putting the fate of 7,500 state workers' jobs in danger.

Scrambling to find a way to balance his budget without the concessions, the Associated Press reports that Malloy spent his weekend devising ways -- such as attrition and not filling open job slots -- to lessen the number of layoffs come July 1, but has yet to know exactly how many workers may be effected. And critics are urging Malloy to make good on a campaign pledge to slash the administration's workforce, reports the Connecticut Mirror. Meanwhile, the governor is still holding out hope that the unions will come around in a possible re-vote and solve all his budget woes.

And so the question looms: Will the Connecticut unions' decision inspire some undecided N.Y. workers to vote "no" when it's their turn or will Malloy's returned threat of layoffs scare them into making a deal? Only time will tell. But Madarasz is hoping to send a message to other governors and labor unions in August that "when you work constructively to try to come up with a fair approach ... it can work."

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