New York Union Approves Four-Year Contract, Averts Layoffs

New York’s second-biggest public union ratified a four-year contract with Governor Andrew Cuomo’s administration that freezes wages and saves thousands of jobs.

Members of the Public Employees Federation voted 27,718 to 11,645 to approve the deal, the union said today in a statement sent by e-mail.

It was the second time in five weeks the 55,000-member union voted on a new accord. In September, PEF rank-and-file rejected a five-year deal approved by union leadership, and Cuomo immediately began the process of firing almost 3,500 workers. After the four-year deal was negotiated by PEF leaders last month, Cuomo, a 53-year-old Democrat, said he would hold off on the firings until tomorrow so the union could revote.

The new agreement calls for no salary increases for three years, with a raise of 2 percent for 2014, the union said in an Oct. 17 statement. It also includes reimbursement for nine furlough days payable at the end of the agreement, the union said.

Cuomo said he was surprised by the margin -- 70 percent to 30 percent -- in the second vote.

“This is a dramatically different outcome for only relatively minor modifications on the contract,” Cuomo said at a press conference in Albany. The difference was one of the “tonality,” he said.

‘More Dialogue’

The weeks leading up to the first vote took place in a national environment where public unions in states such as Wisconsin were hostile to changes being proposed by governors, Cuomo said. The second time around, “there was more communication, more outreach, more dialogue, and emotion came down, facts went up,” he said.

The PEF represents professional, scientific and technical employees. In August, the 66,000-member Civil Service Employees Association, the state’s biggest union, approved a five-year contract that, although a year longer, is similar to the deal PEF approved.

Both accords are part of Cuomo’s effort to win labor acceptance of cost-cutting measures under the threat of dismissals. Cuomo gave the unions the choice as part of his fiscal 2012 budget, which includes $450 million in labor-cost savings and no new taxes.

Cuomo also said he will continue to push for a new tier in New York’s pension system that would raise the retirement age for new employees to 65 from 62 and increase employee contributions. When he first introduced the measure in June, Cuomo estimated it would save the state $93 billion over the next 30 years. He was unable to push it through the Legislature.

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