Legal basis to freeze pay of government workers

I was interested to see the legal opinion put forward yesterday by the Empire Center for New York St

I was interested to see the legal opinion put forward yesterday by the Empire Center for New York State Policy that our state would be justified in freezing the wages of all its employees to deal with the current fiscal crisis, regardless of labor contracts.

The opinion, provided by the Albany law firm of Bond, Schoeneck & King, pointed out that it’s been done before — in New York City in 1978 and in Buffalo in 2005, for just two examples. The crucial element is that there be a “legislative finding of a fiscal emergency.”

With such a foundation, the constitutional prohibition on “impairing the Obligation of Contracts” can be trumped, said lawyers Terry O’Neil and Howard Miller of the aforementioned law firm.

Well, what would you expect from such a “well known union-busting law firm?” responded Steve Madarasz, spokesman for CSEA, which represents many of the employees whose wages would be frozen. “They’re a tainted source,” he said. And so is the Empire Center, as a branch of the conservative Manhattan Institute, “which is funded not only by corporate America but literally by some of the wealthiest people on the face of the earth,” in Madarasz’ understanding.

So there you go. Expertise for hire, as he sees it, and I am not the one to adjudicate the matter.

Darcy Wells, spokeswoman for the other big statewide union, PEF, thinks similarly, of course, and revealed that PEF has filed a labor grievance against the delay in scheduled pay raises already imposed by Gov. Paterson.

It will take a court to decide whether our governor can delay pay raises, furlough workers or even freeze all pay, as the Empire Center desires, and as I desire too.

Yes, I too. I mean, isn’t it offensive that those of us who toil for private companies are subject to basic economic forces — sales go down, pay goes down — while those we hire by way of our government are exempt?

Which is what it boils down to: Public employees — our employees — have gotten such a stranglehold on government that they prosper no matter what. Automatic raises every year, guaranteed pensions, incentives to retire early.

As for expertise for hire, I refer you to the study recently completed on behalf of the International/County Management Association, an organization representing the interests of government employees. It found — and please hold on to your seats — that government jobs pay less than comparable private-sector jobs even when you factor in the famously juicy benefits.

Who’d a thunk it! Especially here in the Capital Region, where landing a state job is often regarded as equal to winning the lottery. Now I’m set for life, is the idea. Now I’ll get paid double what I was paid before. Now I’ll get dental. Now I’ll be able to retire when I’m 55 or 60. Now nobody can touch my pension. Now I’m on easy street.

In my years in journalism I can’t count the number of honest, capable reporters I have seen bail out and go to work for the state doing the trivia of public relations just because it pays so much better and gives so much more security.

How many people do I know who have bailed out of state employment to go to work for private companies? Let me think a while, and I’ll get back to you.

Freezing government pay should be just a first step toward cutting it, in my view.

Categories: Opinion

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