Today a U.S. district court judge will hear arguments from the state and four unions for and against employee furloughs and temporary wage freezes, two solutions to the state’s fiscal crisis that the Paterson administration was forced to resort to as a result of the Legislature’s irresponsibility and the unions’ intransigence. The furloughs would have started a few weeks ago but for a temporary restraining order issued by the judge. The unions now seek a preliminary injunction, the first step toward a permanent injunction.
The line of argument has already been set by court precedents cited by the judge when he issued the temporary restraining order. The state will argue that these actions are a “reasonable and necessary” response to the state’s fiscal crisis. And that, at least in the case of the wage freeze, there will be no irreparable harm to state employees because they will get the wage hike after there is a budget.
The unions will argue that the actions violate the state civil service law and are an unconstitutional violation of their contract.
However, as Abraham Lincoln said, the Constitution is not a suicide pact. The state is facing an unprecedented fiscal emergency, with a $9.2 billion deficit this year and more of the same in future years. It also has a cash flow crisis.
But the Legislature refuses to recognize these realities or do anything about them. And the unions say to their fellow New Yorkers, with their refusal to make any of the concessions Gov. Paterson has requested, like giving up their 4 percent pay raise or accepting a 5-day lag pay plan, “the state’s lack of money is your problem, not ours; don’t ask us for any sacrifices (the kind that countless other Americans have been making), just give us what we have coming.”
We hope the state prevails in court, as other states have done in some cases and municipalities in New York, like New York City and Buffalo have done in taking similar measures during fiscal emergencies. But the chances seem good, based on the judge’s issuance of the temporary restraining order and the language used in doing so, that the unions will prevail. If so, it will be their gain and everyone else’s loss.