BLOCKED: Federal Judge Slaps Down Paterson Furlough

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    NEWSLETTERS

    Budget crisis could derail final exam schedule.

    Federal judge has blocked the furloughs of New York state workers by Paterson and lawmakers and ordered a hearing on the controversial issue.

    This latest development comes as Gov. David Paterson is rescinding raises to some staff, saying unions were using the promotions to distract the public in a fight over furloughs of unionized state workers.

    Public employee unions had accused the Democrat of hypocrisy for promoting some of his staff even as he tries to furlough state workers to save money.

    Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook says Wednesday the governor will reverse the raises of between $5,000 and $10,000 to four press aides. They're filling positions vacated when his communications director and press secretary resigned amid scandals over a Paterson aide accused in a domestic violence case and free World Series tickets provided to the governor by the New York Yankees.

    Even with those proposed pay hikes, Paterson spokespeople pointed out the administration's press payroll plummeted by more than $300,000 since July 2008 and executive chamber salaries are down 20 percent. But that's not keeping the furlough issue out of courts – and it doesn't ease the pain for workers who'll be forced to take a day off.

    Meantime, Representatives for thousands of state employees could head back to court today as they move forward with their legal battle against mandatory unpaid days off.
     
    Four powerful workers unions filed papers seeking temporary restraining orders in hopes of stopping the plan that would force 100,000 state workers to take a day a week without pay in an effort to close New York's $9.2 billion budget deficit.

    The union representing faculty and staff at CUNY schools are among those suing the state – fearing a furlough would interrupt operations during their busiest time of the year.

    "It could mean students aren't able to take exams, that professors aren't able to grade the exams, that the staff is not able to submit those grades … students could be prevented from graduating," cautioned one high-level CUNY administrator.

    Paterson forced a vote on an emergency spending bill that includes the one-day-a-week furloughs for about 100,000 state workers, meant to save $30 million a week beginning May 17.

    Even though the Senate and Assembly majorities oppose furloughs and call the action illegal, they voted for them because the furloughs couldn't be separated from the spending bill. Rejecting that measure would have shut down state government.

    For state workers making an average salary of $64,164 a year, a furlough would cost about $267 a week, which they wouldn't get back under Paterson's plan. The unions had previously rejected a request to temporarily delay their annual 4 percent raise, worth about $53 a week for the average worker.

    "Furloughs are the least preferable option, but they have made it necessary,'' said E.J. McMahon, an analyst for the fiscally conservative Empire Center for New York State Policy.

    Unions seek to rule the governor's actions as illegal and claim he violated the Taylor Law, which requires negotiations with public employee unions before contractual changes can be made.

    The unions have so far refused requests by the Paterson administration for lag pay and for suspending their raises for a year to as Paterson puts it share in the sacrifice of all New Yorkers in the recession.