Another Labor Problem for Paterson: Firefighters Want to Override Him

ALBANY—The union representing firefighters is pushing to override David Paterson’s veto of a bill that allows newly hired police officers and firefighters to receive a more lucrative pension package.

“We’re hopeful that the legislature will address it when they reconvene. We’ve gotten a lot of favorable feedback from the members on this,” said John Black, counsel for the NYS Professional Firefighters Association. “I’m cautiously optimistic at this point. Until there’s actually a vote, you’re not really going to know.”

The group sent a letter to its local chapters several weeks ago asking to either override the veto or support a bill that extends the pension benefits pending further study, and one source in the union said he felt an override was likely.  Paterson vetoed the bill, which would have extended the benefits package, in June, citing the state’s fiscal climate. He was applauded by business groups and Mayor Michael Bloomberg.

State Senator Diane Savino, however, called the move “unprecedented” because it was done without input form her or Assemblyman Peter Abbate, chairs of their bodies’ committees on civil service and government employees.

Savino said that she believes the votes for an override are present in the Senate, but not the Assembly, adding that her chamber would not act unless it was assured the other chamber would act. She didn’t think an override would be practical or helpful now.

But even without legislative legs, the push is politically significant. Paterson has been working to mend his relationships with unions–a natural power base for him and other Democrats–but they are becoming more vocal in their displeasure. A group of union leaders will meet soon with Paterson to express their frustration, and some unions are calling for Andrew Cuomo to run for governor. The NYSPFFA reliably supports Democrats: they endorsed Andrew Cuomo for attorney general in 2006, as well as Eliot Spitzer for governor.

I asked Black if, given the consequences of a veto override, he might prefer another path.

“To avoid the embarrassment of the override, we put this other bill in to show that we’re being reasonable,” he said. “Either one gets it done. I’m results-oriented.”

Morgan Hook, a Paterson spokesman, said the governor “stands by his decision to veto this bill. This is an unprecedented economic crisis that the sate is facing, and the governor s going to make decisions that will continue to guide this sate out of this crisis, and he’s going to continue to push for reforms that will make the state stronger.”

Another Labor Problem for Paterson: Firefighters Want to Override Him