Wednesday, May 12, 2010

NY Public Employee Furloughs Blocked: What Next?

The New York Daily News and the AP are reporting that Governor Patterson's plan to furlough over 100,000 state workers is on hold until May 26th, following a temporary restraining order from U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn. The state and the public employee unions now have two weeks to prepare their cases for and against furloughs. For more, see the Capitol Confidential blog. Here's UUP's announcement of their lawsuit and other legal actions to stop the furloughs, along with President Phil Smith's reaction to the temporary restraining order.

As a public employee and proud UUP activist, I'm pleased that I'll be able to finish my grading uninterrupted. But I'm also wondering what's coming next. Lt. Gov. Ravitch has threatened that no furloughs = layoffs, but that would mean going back on a no-2010-layoffs pledge the Governor made in exchange for union acquiescence on a new, lower tier in the state employees' pension plan (for new employees, of course). Under the UUP contract, which expires next July, many of those new employees would be the first to be fired if SUNY is forced into retrenchments by the state of New York.

I'm wondering if UUP shouldn't consider re-opening negotiations, with an eye toward stretching our last scheduled pay increase over several years and strengthening the provisions affecting retrenchments--if not with this Governor, then with the next one, who could perhaps be enticed into a no-layoffs-in-2011 pledge. It's very unlikely that either side would want to move at all quickly when it comes to negotiating the next contract--the Governor's office because salaries would be frozen in the absence of a new agreement and the union leadership because they would want to avoid even the prospect of salary decreases or minimal increases, which would be very likely if the state's finances are even worse next year than this year. From my perspective, opening negotiations on the current contract could lead to a win-win, in that doing so would help out the state in a terrible budget year (and hopefully turn down the heat on the union-bashing from the Governor's office), while guaranteeing my colleagues and me some kind of pay increases after the 2010-2011 academic year. If some of the savings could be devoted to actually hiring new full-time faculty, instead of being thrown into the budget black hole, I'd be even happier. In fact, I'd give up pay raises for three years if all the savings were devoted to a huge hiring push from SUNY and NY.

Unfortunately, this Governor has nothing to lose and no trust (to say the least) with or from New York's union leaders. Where that leaves the state budget and SUNY is an open question.

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