Unions Rage Against Paterson’s Proposal

ALBANY—Major labor unions are turning a cold shoulder to David Paterson's call to open labor contracts again and force employees to forgo an automatic three percent raise next year.

They have scant incentive to go along: all are locked in to contracts—negotiated under better fiscal times—until 2011 . The one move that could force labor's hand—the prospect of layoffs—Paterson rejected at a press conference earlier today.

"We cannot do this without their cooperation," he said. "We're not going to schedule any layoffs, and we're not planning any reductions to the workforce."

When asked why layoffs were off the table, he replied: "We're not intending to lay off workers. But we might have to accelerate the attrition rate."

Officials from the Civil Service Employees Association, Public Employees Federation and United University Professions all said they thought the money could be found elsewhere.

 "Those dollars from state employees that are not getting a raise this year, that's money you're not going next year [or the] next year, so the average state employee will be paying for the next 20 or 30 years to help the state now," said P.E.F. President Ken Brynien. "And it's just not fair on them, especially when millionaires aren't being asked for any money at all."

Phillip Smith, president of U.U.P., said it's hard enough to attract faculty members to SUNY and CUNY campuses now, and will become harder if salaries are reduced.

"It's not a conversation that I would eagerly pursue, and in fact, I don't see any benefit at all, to the state, students or to our members to re-open our contracts."

CSEA, the largest union representing state employees, said in a statement that it is "appalled" by Paterson's course of action.

"CSEA has repeatedly told the Governor that it will not reopen contracts and yet he has now publicly proposed a range of giveback demands which raise legal and ethical questions. Choosing to play politics through the media is counterproductive," the statement reads.

The union is already running ads against the Governor.

Unlike the rest of the $5.2 billion in cuts he proposed earlier today, Paterson would not need legislative approval to renegotiate with the unions (though the eventual contract would have to be ratified). Forgoing the raises would save $122 million in next year's budget.

Paterson also asked unions to agree to defer one week's worth of salary until workers separate from the state – meaning money due now would not be paid until an unforeseen future date.

The labor leaders say they presented the governor with proposals that would have saved billions by reducing the number of outside contractors doing state work and changing staffing and hours.

None were included in the package unveiled this morning.