Members of Albany’s second-largest public employees union, the Public Employees Federation, clearly had second thoughts about challenging Governor Cuomo over wage and benefit concessions. Mr. Cuomo said that if P.E.F. didn’t accept $450 million in concessions, he’d have no choice but to lay off 3,500 P.E.F. members.
At first, P.E.F. basically told the governor to do his worst. Perhaps members thought Mr. Cuomo was bluffing, which, if nothing else, shows that the union is not necessarily blessed with keen political insight. Mr. Cuomo was not bluffing. When that became clear, the P.E.F. basically ordered up a do-over. Members have now voted overwhelmingly in favor of the deal they rejected just over a month ago.
That’s good news for many people, but most of all for the 3,500 P.E.F. members whose jobs have been saved by the second thoughts of their brothers and sisters. Apparently there is something to be said about “solidarity forever,” after all.
P.E.F. members, like those of the state’s largest public employees union, the Civil Service Employees Association, will receive no raises for three years and will have to pay more of their health insurance costs. C.S.E.A. members ratified a similar deal over the summer in exchange for no layoffs. Now the P.E.F. has followed suit, although the process has not been quite as smooth as it was with the C.S.E.A.
In any case, once again the contrast between Albany and Trenton (and other state capitals, like Madison, Wis.) is striking. New Jersey politics remains scarred by the bitter confrontation between public employees unions and Governor Christie over pension and benefit reforms enacted earlier this year. While nobody was expecting any dramatic changes in the state’s legislative elections on Nov. 8, the fall campaign was marked by bitter union attacks not only on Mr. Christie but on key Democrats who helped the Republican governor enact the changes.
Mr. Cuomo has treated his state’s work force with far more delicacy than Mr. Christie has. There has been no demonization of public employees, no slurs against their competency and work ethic. As a result, Mr. Cuomo has gotten what the state as a whole needs without the drama and bitterness that has characterized belt-tightening in other states.
That speaks well of the governor, for sure. But it also speaks well of New York’s public employees as well.