PEF Workers in New York to Get Unemployment Notices

4:41 PM, Oct 3, 2011   |    comments
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By CARA MATTHEWS
Gannett Albany Bureau

ALBANY - Gov. Andrew Cuomo's administration sent out the bulk of 3,500 layoff notices Wednesday, a day after the Public Employees Federation rejected a five-year contract.

Ten large agencies will lose more than 100 employees if the two sides don't reach an agreement, including 643 from the Office of Mental Health, 446 from the Department of Correctional Services, 386 from the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities and 361 from the Department of Transportation. The notices take effect 21 days from when they are issued.

While the governor has encouraged a revote, the union doesn't appear inclined to do so. Its leaders have asked the governor to re-open negotiations. The contract failed 54 percent to 46 percent, with 70 percent of ballots returned. PEF has about 56,000 members, with 52,000 covered under the contract.

"We have already asked the governor to come back to the table, and hopefully hold the layoffs in abeyance during that period of time," PEF Secretary Treasurer Arlea Igoe told reporters at union headquarters in the Albany suburb of Latham.

She said Cuomo has an obligation under state labor law to return to negotiations.

Holding another vote "is not really something we would consider" because there was such a high participation rate on the contract, she said. But it hasn't been ruled out completely.

"Unless the governor were to come back to the table and we were able to tweak something, what would be the sense in it?" Igoe said.

It costs more than $100,000 to hold a vote on a contract because the union uses an independent agency to count the ballots, she said. The union had more than 100 regional meetings on the contract.

PEF members are professionals, including doctors, lawyers and accountants, Igoe said, who earn an average salary of between $65,000 and $70,000.

"They read that contract. They picked it apart. They evaluated it. They knew what it meant to them. They knew the money they were losing," she said.

Howard Glaser, Cuomo's director of state operations, said Tuesday that union leaders failed to adequately inform members of the tentative contract's benefits.

The 66,000-member Civil Service Employees Association, the state's largest union, in August approved a five-year contract with the same terms PEF was faced with. It was approved by nearly 60 percent of those who voted.

Some of the biggest concerns PEF members had about the contract related to health-insurance premium hikes and nine days of furloughs, four of which they would be paid later, Igoe said. They didn't think the protections against layoffs were strong enough, and they didn't like that the contract term was five years, rather than the usual four, she said. They wouldn't receive raises in the first three years of the contract, followed by 2 percent hikes in each of the last two years.

Igoe said members weren't happy that they would receive the same bonus as CSEA members would -- $775 in 2013 and $225 in 2014. PEF leaders believe their union members deserve a larger payment - between $1,650 and $2,000 - because they earn more.

They don't think the health-care premium increases of 2 percent or 6 percent are fair, she said. PEF members are white-collar workers who largely get paid more than their CSEA counterparts, and most would fall under the 6 percent hike.

Employees will continue to get incremental "step" increases. About 51 percent of members are due to get the hikes, which are given out in April and October, Igoe said. That means the next round will take effect starting this weekend.

Cuomo has said the state would lay off 9,800 employees if unions didn't make $450 million in concessions for this fiscal year. More than a dozen union contracts expired April 1.

Igoe said the contract worked for CSEA because those members generally are at lower pay grades than PEF members, who would have taken bigger hits in their contract.

The large number of layoffs in the Office of Mental Health seems to indicate the state is stepping up its closures and consolidations earlier than it had anticipated, said Harvey Rosenthal, executive director of the New York Association of Psychiatric Rehabilitation Services.

"Whereas that's ultimately a reasonable trend, if the process moves too quickly, I worry about the pressure it puts on consumers' families and local systems," he said.

A spokesman for the State University of New York, where there will be 208 layoffs, declined to comment on the issue Wednesday. 

This is the approximate breakdown by region of Public Employees Federation employees:

-- Buffalo: more than 4,500
-- Elmira and Hornell, Steuben County: 750
-- Rochester: 2,500
-- Syracuse: 4,100
-- Binghamton: 1,900
-- Utica: less than 1,900
-- Potsdam, St. Lawrence County, and Plattsburgh, Clinton County: 1,400
-- Capital Region: more than 18,000
-- Mid-Hudson: 4,900
-- Manhattan, Bronx: 5,600
-- Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island: 5,000
-- Long Island: 4,500

Source: Public Employees Federation.

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