The nearly 900 New York state workers scheduled for layoffs Dec. 31 are receiving information about their rights to bump other union workers in a grim holiday mailing.
The letters to 898 people slated for layoffs announced by Gov. David Paterson in October advise them of their rights under union contracts and civil service law. In some cases, targeted employees will be able to "bump" a colleague with less seniority. The provision gives the employee a period of time to decide, said Erik Kriss, spokesman for the state Division of Budget.
Final layoff notices don't need to be sent until Dec. 10 to comply with a union contract that requires at least 20 days' notice. The layoffs are part of Paterson's plan to address $250 million of a current deficit of up to $1 billion.
Kriss said the administration still prefers to avoid layoffs, but has gotten no cooperation from Albany's powerful public employee unions, who have rejected Paterson's alternatives. He has for a year sought $250 million in concessions through delaying the workers' annual 4-percent raise or lagging a week's pay until the end of service, which would have avoided layoffs.
Unions have refused to reopen their negotiated contracts, which labor leaders say would set a dangerous precedent.
Whether Gov.-elect Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, goes through with the layoffs isn't certain. He has declined comment on his plans for governing, specifically saying he will consider Paterson's layoffs in January. Paterson's final day in office is Dec. 31. He has said he felt bound to leave the state's finances balanced.
"We would certainly have preferred that these employees continue working — for the services they provide, the positive impact their continued employment would have on the state's economy and the well-being of the employees themselves and their families," said Kriss, Paterson's budget spokesman.
In addition to the great sway public unions hold in Albany through lobbying, campaign contributions and their hundreds of thousands of members, a Nov. 15 poll found 53 percent of voters oppose the layoffs. Forty percent supported the layoffs in the Siena College poll.
Until Dec. 31, Cuomo is the state attorney general and he has said he would defend Paterson's action in court against union challenges.
Public employee unions have threatened legal action, citing a memorandum of understanding that was part of legislation to create a less expensive pension plan for new state hires. In exchange for the unions' support, Paterson promised no layoffs until Dec. 31.
The Public Employees Federation is running an ad blasting Paterson in attempt to gain public support and leverage in the Legislature and with Cuomo. The ad shows an unused desk with a phone in a darkened room. A call comes in and the viewer overhears an angry father threatening to throw away a little girl's "stupid doll," as she starts to cry.
As the argument gets more heated, the ad talks about all the union jobs already lost through attrition and early retirement incentives.
Then the phone answers: "You have reached the child abuse prevention hot line. No one is available to help you right now. Please leave a message." The ad fades out with the ominous sound of a dial tone.
The Paterson administration hasn't scheduled any layoffs for the child abuse hot line.
"PEF recognizes the seriousness of the current economic crisis, but Governor David Paterson's plan to lay off nearly 1,000 state employees has the potential to seriously hamper services on which New York taxpayers rely," said union President Kenneth Brynien. "The ads point out the state work force has already been cut by 11,500 jobs since 2008. It's time for the governor to ask himself which state services he is willing to tell taxpayers they must do without."