Clock ticking as PEF, governor negotiate on shorter contract

As time dwindled to avoid 3,496 layoffs, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a state workers’ union today

As time dwindled to avoid 3,496 layoffs, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo and a state workers’ union today were negotiating a potential breakthrough of crafting a shorter contract that still provided the concessions Cuomo requires.

Cuomo and the Public Employees Federation would have to strike a deal as early as today to avoid the Oct. 19 deadline for layoffs to begin statewide. Several days are needed to make sure the rank-and-file would ratify a new tentative contract.

The job titles that would be among the layoffs include bridge inspectors for New York’s notoriously decaying infrastructure, Medicaid fraud investigators, and those who care for the disabled.

The PEF jobs range from 998 in Albany County to a hundred or less in some smaller counties, so losses would create a drag on local economies trying to recover from the recession. For example, 34 families would be hit by layoffs in Chemung County, where the population is 88,000, and 51 families would be affected in Franklin County, with a population of 51,000. New York City would see 345 layoffs.

PEF’s members this fall rejected a tentative contract negotiated by its leaders that would have avoided layoffs, but included a wage freeze, unpaid furloughs, higher health care contributions and other concessions.

Cuomo, who has taken a hard line in talks with all unions, said Thursday that he’s open to shortening a contract with PEF to avoid layoffs if concessions remain to provide the savings he wants. That would mean PEF could negotiate a new contract in three years, when the state’s financial health and the economy could be stronger.

“If there is any way we can avoid 3,500 layoffs, that is what my administration wants to do,” Cuomo told reporters Thursday. “It’s up to PEF.”

PEF has confirmed closed-door negotiations continue, but declined to provide details.

Cuomo made no commitments in Thursday’s news conference.

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