New York’s Second-Biggest Public Union Rejects New Contract

New York’s second-biggest public union rejected a contract that would have frozen wages for three years, increased worker health-care contributions and prevented thousands of firings that may begin as soon as today.

Almost 70 percent of the 56,000-member Public Employees Federation, which represents professional, scientific and technical employees, voted on the contract, the union said today in a statement sent by e-mail. They opposed it 19,629 to 16,906, marking the first time in the union’s 34-year history that the rank and file rejected a pact recommended by its leadership, the statement said.

The outcome represents a defeat for Governor Andrew Cuomo’s effort to win unions’ acceptance of cost-cutting measures under the threat of firings. Cuomo gave the unions the choice as a way to close a $10 billion budget gap without raising taxes. The deal the PEF rejected mirrors one approved in August by the state’s biggest union, the 66,000-member Civil Service Employees Association.

“The decision to reject the tentative agreement was made by our rank-and-file members who clearly feel they are being asked to sacrifice more than others, particularly in light of the pending expiration of the state’s millionaire’s tax,” said PEF President Ken Brynien in a prepared statement.

Another Vote Sought

New York will begin dismissing 3,500 workers today, Howard Glaser, director of state operations, said in a statement. The firings could be stopped if PEF leaders explain the benefits of the contract to their members and schedule another vote, he said.

“We spent months working with PEF’s leadership and reached an agreement,” Glaser said. “We now find out that they do not truly represent their membership.”

PEF leaders averted firings in July when they agreed to the tentative deal their members rejected today. The union intends to ask the governor to send his negotiators back to the bargaining table immediately, Brynien said.

“We are calling on the governor to resist laying off thousands of our members, as he has threatened and, instead, work with us to identify savings that would preserve the state’s depleted workforce and services,” Brynien said.

The PEF rank and file began voting on the five-year contract this month. Cuomo didn’t back down from his threats of firing employees after today’s vote count.

Cuomo Urges Reconsideration

“The Legislature passed a budget that made clear that reducing these costs would be achieved either through the collective-bargaining process or through layoffs,” Cuomo said today in a statement. “I urge them to reconsider.”

Cuomo, a 53-year-old Democrat, has sought to cut public-employee wage-and-pension costs by increasing the retirement age for new employees to 65 from 62 and boosting worker contributions. The changes would save taxpayers $93 billion over 30 years, the governor has said.

Under the rejected contract, PEF workers would have received a 2 percent annual wage increase starting in 2014, after three years of no raises. The deal would save $75 million this fiscal year, $92 million next year, and almost $400 million over the life of the contract, Cuomo has said.

In March, lawmakers approved Cuomo’s $132.5 billion budget, which cut total spending by 2 percent and closed the $10 billion gap with no new taxes.

In budget negotiations this year, Cuomo rejected a proposal pushed by Democrats who control the state Assembly that would have extended an 8.97 percent tax on millionaires due to expire Dec. 31. He has continued to oppose efforts by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver, a Manhattan Democrat, to tax those earning more than $1 million a year, saying it would drive the wealthiest from the state.

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