NYS Gov. Paterson strikes out at unions with furlough measure

If New York State’s Governor David Paterson has his way, the lowest paid state workers could be hit with a 20% paycut next week as part of a mandatory furlough measure.

Thousands of state workers attended protests today in cities including Rochester, Buffalo and Albany. Gov. Paterson claims the furloughs are unavoidable because unions won’t cede contractual protections:

Paterson says the weekly furloughs, which will save an estimated $30 million a week, are necessary because union leaders have refused to accept $250 million in contract concessions. Last month, he similarly included a provision in week-to-week emergency spending bills that stripped state workers of their expected four-percent phrases.

Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue said that while the unions are willing to discuss terms, they will not give in to threats by the state government to rescind hard-earned protections:

“When anybody in that building out there wants to sit down and talk about how we can work together we’ll be there to do that,” CSEA President Danny Donohue said. “But we’re not going to give do it from our knees. We’re not going to give back anything we fought for, anything we have a contract for or anything we’ve earned.”

Donohue also called state lawmakers in favor of the measure “idiots.” Union representatives say that they have proposed measures that would avoid both furloughs and shutting down state government until a budget has passed, but the ideas have fallen on deaf ears. The legislature has until midnight to vote on the measure- if the furloughs are approved, they will begin May 17th. If they are not approved, the state government could shut down until the budget passes. Those opposed to the measure say that even if New York State begins furloughs, the measure could be costlier in the long term and workers may be entitled to full pay for the days they were furloughed, along with interest. If the measure does pass, it seems unlikely that hundreds of thousands of workers facing a 20% pay cut won’t have a ripple effect on the state economy.