Gov. David Paterson, who was in Saratoga Springs on Friday for the Democratic Rural Conference of New York’s annual meeting, was greeted by a loud throng of public union workers demanding he not lay off 8,900 state workers.
“Cut the waste, not the workers,” was chanted by about 300 union workers standing behind police barriers in front of the Gideon Putnam Hotel in the Saratoga Spa State Park.
Leaders of the state’s Public Employees Federation (PEF) and the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) charged that the governor wants to break the unions by asking them to make concessions in the middle of a four-year contract.
Paterson came outside briefly to talk to some of the union leaders and was booed by the crowd, some of whom were armed with electric bullhorns.
He told the union representatives that he has asked the state workforce, in light of private sector layoffs of between 8 and 10 percent across the nation, to reduce their scheduled pay increases.
“However, those that we’re negotiating with don’t want to establish a new precedent of opening their contracts, they don’t want to freeze their wages, they don’t want furloughs, they don’t want any sort of effort that would help us balance our budget,” Paterson said later during a brief news conference.
The union representatives say they have shown the governor how the state could save $730 million by cutting in half the number of outside consultants the state has on its payrolls.
Mary Sullivan of Albany, executive vice president of the statewide CSEA, spoke with the governor outside the Gideon Putnam.
“It’s his way or the highway,” Sullivan said after the conversation. Sullivan said state leaders want the unions to reopen their contracts and give back a previously approved pay increase.
“We cannot do it and we won’t do it,” Sullivan said.
Gov. Paterson said the layoffs talks continue.
“So, we’ll continue to talk, we’re always willing to talk,” he said.
“But we don’t understand why the leadership of the unions would want any of their workers laid off when they can share the sacrifice …,” Paterson said.
“We had to balance a 17.7 billion dollar budget deficit, and we did it the best way we could,” he said.
The Democratic Rural Conference meeting, which continues today at the Gideon Putnam, was attended by several hundred party leaders from across the state, including U.S. Sen. Charles Schumer, D-New York, and U.S. Rep. Paul Tonko, D-Amsterdam.
The theme of the two-day conference is “winning rural campaigns.” The conference has workshops and panel discussions on how a Democratic candidate can prevail in a heavily Republican rural area.
Gov. Paterson addressed the gathering briefly during dinner Friday evening.
Larry Bulman, Saratoga County Democratic Committee chairman, said Democratic congressional candidate Scott Murphy of Glens Falls is again showing upstate New York that a Democrat can be elected in a predominantly rural and Republican 20th Congressional District.
Bulman declared Murphy the winner of the 20th District race against Republican Assemblyman James Tedisco, R-Saratoga Springs, in light of Murphy’s increasing lead in the tally of absentee ballots.
The Democratic Rural Conference was organized in 1996 to help get Democratic candidates elected at all levels of government.