This editorial was updated to correct the name of the union in the headline.
News that the Capital Region would be hit hard by the layoff of 3,496 Public Employees Federation employees, though not surprising, lends particular urgency to negotiations reportedly reopened this week between union officials and Gov. Andrew Cuomo.
Roughly one-third of the targeted layoffs — a total of 1,149 — would come from the four-county region, and that would constitute quite a hit to the local economy. PEF members aren’t modestly paid blue-collar types, but professionals whose earnings average $70,000 per year. Throwing that many people making that kind of money out of work all at once would be surely felt by the businesses they support, and the losses would likely reverberate through the already weak local economy.
A healthy majority of PEF members decided last month that they would rather let a few thousand colleagues get the ax than accept the austere five-year plan leaders negotiated with the state — basically no raises for three years, two modest ones after that, five days of unpaid furloughs and higher health insurance contributions. It was indeed an austere package, but in the context of the state’s precarious fiscal condition, as well as the national economy’s — plus the fact that state workers have fared well in recent years compared to those in the private sector — hardly seemed out of line. In fact, it was essentially the same deal the state’s much-larger union, the Civil Service Employees Association, took in August.
Gov. Andrew Cuomo, not anxious to have to follow through on his layoff threat, has implored the union to reconsider, but has rightly refused to budge on the package’s overall cost. If he did sweeten the pot for PEF, he’d be forced to reopen the CSEA deal, and in no time, his budget would unravel. But it seems unlikely, frankly, that there can be enough meaningful yet revenue-neutral “tweaks” to convince enough members to turn their votes around.
Still, we hope it happens — not just for the sake of the 3,496 on death row and not just for the Capital Region, but for the remaining state work force, which will surely suffer if there are that many layoffs, and all New Yorkers.
PEF officials need to do a better job selling a tweaked plan if indeed one comes out of the current talks, and the rank and file need to do a bit more soul-searching before casting their ballots.