August 19, 2022

Cuomo Secures Big Givebacks in Union Deal

The five-year agreement between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo, a Democrat, and the Civil Service Employees Association, includes a three-year wage freeze, the first furloughs ever for state workers and an increase in the amount employees must pay toward their health insurance.

Savings would amount to $73 million this year, and as much as $1.6 billion over five years, if other labor unions representing public workers agreed to similar concessions. Absent those agreements, there could still be layoffs of some public workers, the Cuomo administration said.

The agreement was announced as the governor and lawmakers negotiated over a number of issues in the waning hours of the legislative session. Senate Republicans had not decided on Wednesday night whether to allow a vote on the most contentious issue, the proposed legalization of same-sex marriage.

The negotiations between Mr. Cuomo and the union, which represents about a third of the 186,000 state workers, were largely free of the public rancor that accompanied efforts to reduce spending on labor in New Jersey and Wisconsin.

“I want to applaud C.S.E.A. for understanding, truly, the situation that the state is in,” the governor told reporters on Wednesday night. “The union really stepped up and helped the state out at a very precarious time, from a financial point of view.”

In a statement, Danny Donohue, the president of the union, said, “These are not ordinary times, and C.S.E.A. and the Cuomo administration have worked very hard at the bargaining table to produce an agreement that balances shared sacrifice with fairness and respect.”

The deal is subject to ratification by union members, who will vote by mail over the next several weeks. It would provide pay raises of 2 percent in the fourth and fifth years of the contract.

Mr. Cuomo, facing shrinking resources because of the recession, had earlier in the legislative session won approval of a state budget that depended on a $450 million cut in labor costs, either from layoffs or union concessions.

He had also proposed reducing pension benefits for new government workers; that proposal is unlikely to be approved in this session, but will be a potential flash point going forward.

Edmund J. McMahon, director of the Empire Center for New York State Policy, a research group that favors reduced government spending, called the deal a mixed bag.

On one hand, Mr. McMahon said, the agreement was not an effort at significant transformation, like that tried by Gov. Scott Walker of Wisconsin, who sought to end collective bargaining for many public-employee unions. On the other hand, he said, the New York deal marked a sharp departure from the state’s previous four-year labor contract, which put in place base wage increases of 3 percent a year for the first three years and 4 percent in the fourth year.

“In Wisconsin, they tried to change the rules,” Mr. McMahon said, adding, “If you’re negotiating within the rules of the game, this is probably the best deal you can get.”

Under the terms of the deal announced on Wednesday, lower-paid employees — those whose salaries start at about $33,000 or less — will have their share of health care premiums rise to 12 percent, from 10 percent, for individuals. More highly paid employees will have their share rise to 16 percent. The cost of family health coverage will also increase; for more highly paid employees, for example, the share will rise to 31 percent, from 25 percent. State officials expect that, as in the past, the health care changes will also apply to retirees, a potentially critical part of the overall savings.

In addition to taking a five-day furlough in the current fiscal year, employees must take a four-day leave in the year after, though the second-year furlough will be repaid at the end of the contract term.

Employees who remain through 2013 will earn one-time bonus payments of $775 in 2013 and $225 in 2014 — such one-time payments do not compound over time like salary increases, which increase long-term cash costs for the state and the burden on the pension system.

In addition to the wage and benefits concessions, the union also agreed to an overhaul of the disciplinary procedures for state employees accused of abuse or neglect of the developmentally disabled. The state and the union will develop a series of punishments for employees who commit disciplinary offenses in an effort to end the seemingly random punishments handed out by arbitrators to employees in the past. And there will also be an overhaul of the current arbitration panel and higher pay in an effort to recruit better arbitrators.

The Cuomo administration had pressed for the changes after a series of articles in The New York Times examining the treatment of the disabled in group homes and state-run institutions. Among the newspaper’s findings: The state has retained workers who committed physical or sexual abuse, rehired many workers it had fired, shunned whistle-blowers and rarely reported allegations of abuse to law enforcement officials.

While employees represented by the Civil Service Employees Association averted layoffs, the Cuomo administration is still negotiating with a number of other unions, including the Public Employees Federation, which represents 56,000 employees and is the second-largest union of state employees. The state has put forward a July 15 deadline for layoffs in other unions if an agreement is not reached to reduce their wages and benefits.

The Public Employees Federation has had more contentious talks thus far with the Cuomo administration, going so far as to post the administration’s negotiating position on the Internet, but its position was weakened by the agreement announced on Wednesday.

Ken Brynien, president of the Public Employees Federation, issued only a brief statement, saying his union “stands ready to meet with the state’s negotiators to reach an agreement.”

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