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Sunmount Developmental Center in Tupper Lake.
Sunmount Developmental Center in Tupper Lake.

Pink slips from Cuomo administration hit 175 North Country workers

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State officials now say roughly 175 people will lose their jobs in the North Country after the Public Employee Federation last week voted down a new contract.

Hardest hit were Franklin, Jefferson and St. Lawrence Counties, which each saw about fifty positions cut from the state payroll.

In all, the state will lay off 3,496 workers within the next three weeks unless the union and the governor come to an agreement soon.

Gov. Andrew Cuomo had been hoping for concessions from PEF's membership as the state continues to deal with a $10 billion budget deficit.

As political wrangling continues in Albany, Chris Morris reports that the pink slips are deeply personal to many North Country workers.

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Chris Morris
Tri-Lakes Correspondent

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In a statement issued last week, PEF President Ken Brynien said the union is “prepared to present to the state new ideas” which he believes will lead to an agreement.

On Friday, Gov. Cuomo indicated that he’s open to “tweaks” in the labor contract, which would stave off layoffs. But for the time being, nearly 3,500 state workers are staring down the harsh reality of unemployment.

Cuomo’s layoffs include more than 400 cuts at the state Department of Correctional Services and almost 400 at the Office for People with Developmental Disabilities. His plans also include cuts at the state transportation and environmental conservation departments.

27 employees at Sunmount Development Disabilities Services Office in Tupper Lake got pink slips last week, according to union leader Ed Snow.

Snow said most of the employees who received notice on Wednesday were social workers. To his surprise, most of the people he spoke to were more concerned about their clients than their own jobs.

“I’m kind of mind boggled,” Snow said. “Social workers are concerned about the people they work for. I said to people, you’ve got to get out of that mindset that you’re at work - you’re going to have to be making decisions about your own life.” 

Snow said the layoffs will have a far-reaching impact, as Sunmount serves a vast geographical area that includes Franklin, Essex, Hamilton, Clinton, Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties.

“It won’t just be Tupper Lake and Saranac Lake,” he said. “It will encompass people who live and work out of the Plattsburgh office, and the Potsdam office will pretty much be a ghost town.”

Ron Tucker of Saranac Lake was among the workers who received a pink slip last week, less than four months after relocating to New York from California for a job at the state Adirondack Park Agency.

Tucker didn’t get a ballot from PEF and wasn’t able to cast a vote, but if he had, he would have supported the tentative contract.

“Having not even four months on the job, just out of pure fear of losing my job, I would have voted yes,” Tucker said. 

If a second PEF vote doesn’t stave off the layoffs, Tucker said he’ll have to leave. “I’m going to pack up my stuff,” he said.

Tucker, who grew up a stone’s throw away from the Adirondacks in Queensbury, is a project analyst at the APA specializing in soils and forestry resources. He said he loves working for the agency, adding that when he had the opportunity to come back east, he jumped at it.

“Every single day I got up and I was like, ‘Wow, this is everything I wanted in life, and this is exactly what I wanted to do for a living,’” Tucker said. “And it’s all gone now.” 

According to Tucker, he left his job in Bishop, California on good terms, and that’s where he’ll go if the layoffs are permanent.

“Have you ever seen the movie ‘Mad Max’?” he asked. “It’s in the middle of the desert. It’s absolutely horrible. But it’s a job.” 

State Senator Betty Little said the layoffs won’t help the economy and that it’s unfortunate some of the people who voted to approve the contract may end up losing their jobs anyway.

Little said the layoffs will be a tough pill to swallow, but she credited Cuomo for staying resolute.

“I think you have to stick to your word; you can’t say you’re going to do something and then not do it,” Little said. “Then you lose credibility.” 

Ken Tucker said he worked hard to find employment in New York and feels scorned by the governor.

“My whole life I’ve pursued jobs and higher education and kept going west and west and west, and I said no, I want to go home,” he said. “I finally got home, and New York State kicked me out.”

 

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