CSEA deal: Don’t forget steps, bonuses

Very nice. CSEA — the Civil Service Employees Association, representing 66,000 state workers — has a

Very nice. CSEA — the Civil Service Employees Association, representing 66,000 state workers — has agreed to a new five-year contract that is expected to save the state $73 million this year.

It will freeze the base pay of its members for the first three years, give only modest 2 percent raises in each of the next two years, increase members’ contributions to their health insurance, and require nine days of unpaid leave over two years, in exchange for which the state agrees not to lay anybody off except in extreme circumstances.

This is a fine thing, as public-employee union deals go, though as we know, public-employee union deals generally go badly from the point of view of the rest of us, so that’s not a great standard. They tend to be giveaway on top of giveaway.

Gov. Cuomo called the deal a “big, big win” and praised CSEA President Danny Donohue for his “leadership and vision.”

Donohue called it “reasonable and responsible” and praised Gov. Cuomo for his leadership.

Very jolly, but please don’t think it’s an entirely new day.

So-called step increases are not affected, those being the automatic raises that CSEA members get in each of their first seven years of employment when the pretense is that their work is undervalued. Those run about 2 to 3 percent a year.

Longevity payments are also not affected, those being the bonuses that are bestowed every year after 12 years of employment. For the first five of those years employees get an extra $1,250 per year, and then after that they get an extra $2,500, regardless of salary or grade. (Steve Madarasz, spokesman for CSEA, helpfully explained this to me.)

The payments are called bonuses rather than raises, because they are not incorporated into the base salary.

In the third year of this new contract, when there will still be no official “raise,” everyone will nevertheless get a new $1,000 “bonus” in addition to whatever longevity bonus or step increase he or she already gets.

Five unpaid furlough days are required in the first year of the new contract and four in the second year, but in the fifth year employees will get paid retroactively for that second group of four days, which is not such a bad deal for them, since of course they won’t have worked those days.

It may not be like the salad days when everyone got an automatic 3 or 4 percent raise every year plus all the other goodies, but it’s not exactly hardship either, especially when it comes with a guarantee of no layoffs. What it is, is a guaranteed job with “steps” and “bonuses” instead of raises.

It does require a slightly bigger contribution to one’s health insurance — 12 percent of the cost for individual coverage and 27 percent of the cost for family coverage for toilers in lower paid positions, at grade 9 and below; 16 and 31 percent for those at grade 10 and above, as opposed to the current 10 and 25 percent regardless of grade.

You could say it’s a measure of the lock that public-employee unions have on New York that such modest concessions are counted as a major win for the state. I will say it’s also a measure of realism that the CSEA rank and file actually voted to approve such a deal. They had reason to believe Gov. Cuomo meant it when he said he would lay off as many as 9,800 state workers to achieve the savings he needed.

The vote was far from unanimous — 16,896 to 11,856 — but it wasn’t a cliff-hanger either.

Now we wait to see what the state’s other major union, the Public Employees Federation, with 56,000 members, does with a similar proposal next month.

Word watch

It was a big win, the governor “said in a statement,” according to The New York Times, quoting the same press release that I quoted, and it was a fair deal, Danny Donohue likewise “said in a statement.”

That’s a newspaper turn of phrase that always puzzles me — “said in a statement.” How else can you say something except in a statement? Last night I told my wife in a statement that I would be late for dinner, and she asked me in a question how late.

Why not “asked in a question”? It’s the same idea, isn’t it? Like exclaiming in an exclamation.

I know what newspapers are doing. They’re using shorthand for “said in a written statement that was composed by a press secretary and emailed to us and everyone else.”

I say be honest about it and use the complete form.

Categories: Opinion

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