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Governor Andrew Cuomo comments on the PEF contract ratification Thursday afternoon. Photo: Karen DeWitt
Governor Andrew Cuomo comments on the PEF contract ratification Thursday afternoon. Photo: Karen DeWitt

PEF Ratifies contract: No layoffs, but a three-year pay freeze

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Members of the Public Employees federation ratified a contract that will prevent nearly 3,500 layoffs. Members will make several concessions, including accepting a three year pay freeze. It was a follow-up-vote members had rejected in an earlier version of the contract.

Governor Cuomo says he's "very happy." He credits a more collegial tone in negotiations leading up to the second vote, and has rescinded the layoff notices that would have gone out today.
In Albany, Karen DeWitt reports.

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Karen DeWitt
NYS Capitol Correspondent

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The second contract offer was ratified by a two to one ratio, a big difference from the resounding defeat of the first proposal in September.  Governor Cuomo says he’s “surprised and gratified” at the margin of victory.

“This is really, really great,” said Cuomo, “I’m very happy”.

The governor says the “dramatically different outcome” cannot be attributed to changes in the second contract offer, which he says were “minor”.  He instead thinks the win was the result of a change in tone during the second round of negotiations, and he says the lesson he’s learned is that it’s better to work collaboratively.

“You look at other states and other situations that have gotten combative,” said Cuomo. “This shows that collaboration works.”

The governor says in the end, “cooler heads prevailed ”.

PEF union leaders, who had worked tirelessly to convince members that the contract should be approved, were also pleased and relieved.

After the first contract was rejected in September, Cuomo’s aides sent pink slips to 3500 workers. PEF Vice President Tom Comanzo says he thinks that had an effect on the more than 50,000 other union members. Even though they were not losing their jobs right now, they likely knew someone who would be terminated if they voted no on the contract.

“We had names and faces,” said Comanzo. “I think that helped make a difference.”

The contract approved by members includes a three year wage freeze, and larger contributions for health care coverage, although workers will now be able to offset the premiums by cashing in unused vacation time. Initially, Cuomo sought nine unpaid furlough days, now those days will essentially be converted to a pay lag, and union members will be reimbursed for those days at the end of the contract. Anyone who retires before then also gets the money for those days, and the salary reductions won’t count against the final pension amount.

Workers were also given greater protection against lay offs in the future, a continuing concern as the economy worsens. PEF’s Comanzo says while it’s not in the actual contract, a side letter signed by top Cuomo aide Howard Glaser says the union has the right to go to arbitration if any new lay offs are proposed over the next four years.

“I feel that it would be very unlikely that they would have lay offs,” said Comanzo.

Back in June, during the first round of contract negotiations, PEF led a very vocal protest against Governor Cuomo outside the Capitol.
PEF Vice President Comanzo says the union now expects to have a “very positive relationship” with Cuomo, and says his admisntration has agreed to form a joint labor management committee to examine one of the union’s chief grievances, what they say is excessive state spending on outside contractors.

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