The leaders of another public employee union in New York have chosen sanity over mindless confrontation. Negotiators for the Public Employees Federation, the state’s second-largest union, recently agreed to a new five-year deal that will save taxpayers $400 million in wage and benefit reforms over the life of the contract. The deal comes on the heels of a similar contract with the Civil Service Employees Association, the state’s biggest public employee union.
Members of the P.E.F. will get job protection in exchange for painful but necessary concessions. Union members will receive no raises for three years (they will get 2 percent increases in the fourth and fifth years) and will have to take nine unpaid days off over the next two years. In addition, they will have to contribute more toward their health insurance, enough to save the state more than $50 million a year.
No union leader relishes these kinds of negotiations. Neither, by the way, do most politicians—after all, they live to please people, not to make them surly and resentful. But given the state’s perilous finances, there are few alternatives. The union leaders could have walked away from the table and called for demonstrations outside the state capitol. They could have launched a campaign against the governor. They could have played the class card.
Fortunately for the state, they did none of those things. The P.E.F.’s president, Kenneth Brynien, made it clear that he wanted to save the jobs of his members. He understood that layoffs would be disastrous—the stubbornly high jobless rate does not augur well for any job-seeker in the near future. Rather than rely on bluster and threats, Mr. Brynien cut a deal that will make sure that none of his 55,000 colleagues is forced to the unemployment line. That is a laudable achievement for which his members and the taxpayers of New York should be grateful.
The deal still requires approval from the rank and file. With any luck, the P.E.F.’s members will be as reasonable as their leaders were at the bargaining table. If so, they, too, deserve credit in the ongoing project to restore the Empire State to fiscal stability.
Tough talks still await. Governor Cuomo promises to tackle yet another difficult issue: pension reform for state and city workers. The old defined-benefits model, with pensions based on salaries pumped up by extra overtime, is out of date and, frankly, grossly unfair to taxpayers and to those workers who refuse to game the system.
That fight figures to be far more difficult than this summer’s contract talks. But union leaders and Mr. Cuomo are off to a very positive start.