Wednesday, May 27, 2009

NY state cuts will take the most workers from prisons, MH/MR

From Newsday:

ALBANY - Gov. David A. Paterson is unlikely to resort to widespread layoffs of state workers this summer to cut about 8,900 jobs, despite the tough talk between him and labor leaders.

The Budget Division said last week the state payroll had shrunk by around 1,200 positions since the job-cutting plan was drawn up. The reductions were because of a hiring freeze and people leaving for retirement or other reasons.

So, the positions on the chopping block now stand at 7,687 from a workforce of 136,490. These cuts will be achieved primarily through more attrition and wiping out unfilled jobs. At most, only a few hundred layoffs are expected, experts said.

Lowering the state's labor costs has been complicated by Paterson's weak position in negotiating with the powerful Civil Service Employees Association, Public Employees Federation and eight other unions. Besides having dismal poll numbers, he limited his leverage by not inflating the jobs at risk. Previous governors attempted to scare rank-and-file union members with higher numbers to lobby their leaders into making concessions, experts said.

Govs. Mario Cuomo and George Pataki had limited success in the 1990s, however. The unions refused to grant significant concessions and thousands of jobs were shed to close budget deficits. But this was largely done through attrition and early retirement incentives, not massive layoffs.

"Historically, these things tend to get worked out," said Robert B. Ward of SUNY's Rockefeller Institute of Government in Albany. "The conventional wisdom is that the level of vitriol is higher than ever this year . . . but my sense is that things may have calmed down a bit."

He added, "the number of actual layoffs is likely to be relatively small, if any."

E.J. McMahon of the conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy agreed, though he said the unions had been emboldened by Paterson.

"He has shown no will power. . . . There is no reason to believe he will actually do anything," McMahon said. "He should have threatened to lay off 30,000; then you would have union members thinking their jobs were in danger and pressuring the [union] leadership to accept what Paterson is offering."

Experts pointed to California, Michigan, Wisconsin and other states that have compelled workers to take unpaid furloughs. New Jersey is calling for 14 furlough days from this month through June 2010.

Paterson so far has pushed for union members to skip this year's 3 percent raise and postpone five days' pay until they leave state service. He also wants to raise the minimum retirement age from 55 to 62 for new hires and require them to contribute more to their pensions.

"We've offered a menu of ways that [the unions] could prevent the layoffs but they seem to want to try to vest the responsibility on me," Paterson told Newsday. "I think the responsibility lies with them. They have got to show us that they are willing to make some sacrifices."

Asked if he was committed to the job cuts, Paterson said he was, because otherwise $450 million in savings would be lost over the next two years. He also predicted the $131.8-billion budget would fall out of balance by $3 billion before the fiscal year ends in March because of plummeting tax collections.

Paterson's job cuts affect only unionized workers at agencies under his control. Those taking the biggest hits would be prisons, 2,021; mental retardation, 1,434; mental health, 1,054; transportation, 624; and the State Police, 386.

Long Island would be spared somewhat because SUNY, the largest state employer locally, isn't affected. Neither are the legislature and courts. There also aren't any state prisons here.

Still, reductions are probable at institutions caring for the mentally ill , such as Pilgrim Psychiatric Center and Long Island Developmental Center, each with more than 1,500 unionized workers.

CSEA, in advertising critical of Paterson, has highlighted services for the disabled. Spokesman Stephen Madarasz said, "We've offered the governor lots of ideas for ways of saving money without layoffs. But this isn't about money, it's about trying to extract concessions from us to boost him politically."

CSEA and PEF have called for using fewer consultants, hiring more workers to reduce overtime and expansion of flexible work schedules. Both have refused to amend contracts negotiated in better economic times.