Pink slips were sent out to almost 3,500 PEF members last week -- including about 175 here in the North Country. The layoffs begin to take effect in the next three weeks, unless the union and the governor come to a new contract deal 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. But the membership rejected a deal similar to one ratified earlier this year by the Civil Service Employees Association.
Friday, Cuomo opened the door to "tweaks" that could avert the layoffs, but as Karen DeWitt reports, he says it's entirely up to the union leadership whether the job cut backs occur or not.
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The Public Employees Federation is floating the idea of some so called tweaks to the tenets of the rejected labor contract, including, perhaps charging more for health care on a sliding scale based on the amount of a worker’s pay.
In an interview with public radio, Governor Cuomo says he’s “open” to talking about the proposals.
“If they have tweaks that would come to a different outcome, great, let’s talk about them”, said Cuomo, who said any changes have to be “revenue neutral”.
Cuomo is putting the pressure on the union leadership to reach a deal, though, saying it’s “100% up to PEF” whether or not the lay offs occur.
“This is all up to PEF and the leadership and what they’re willing to do and what they’re not willing to do,” said Cuomo.
The governor also for the first time Friday commented on the rejection of the contract, saying it happened for one of two reasons.
First he says, perhaps they did not take his lay off threat seriously.
“If they thought I was bluffing, we’re going ahead with the lay offs,” said Cuomo “They’ll see they were wrong.”
The governor says he sees that as potentially “good news” because that could mean there’s reason to hold a revote of the same contract.
PEF leadership has rejected that notion.
The other reason, Cuomo says, could be based on each worker’s self interest, and many union members perhaps calculated that they would be spared the lay offs. Under provisions of a state law that kicks in when contracts are in limbo, many would actually receive a small raise later this year. The governor characterized that possible attitude as “forget the collective, forget the community, let me vote in my own self interest”.
Time is short for new negotiations and re- voting on an altered contract. Workers targeted for lay offs must leave their jobs by October 19th.
PEF President Ken Brynien say issued a statement, saying he’s anxious to begin talks.
“He heard the governor’s willingness to have open communication, and he’s very encouraged that the governor is willing to listen to our ideas,” said PEF spokeswoman Darcy Wells.
PEF did not want to comment further, in what is perhaps an indication that the union hopes a compromise can be reached quickly.