Must Force Union Sacrifice
NEW York's sinking economy still hasn't hit bottom. The state bud get gap continues to grow as tax revenues collapse into a black hole the size of Wall Street. As the unemployment rate heads toward double digits, untold thousands of private-sector workers have accepted pay freezes or cuts to save their jobs and keep their firms afloat.
Under the circumstances, Gov. Paterson was completely justified this week in announcing he'll eliminate 8,900 state-government jobs (about four of every 100) because state-employee unions refuse to negotiate relatively modest wage concessions.
The question is: What took him so long?
It was back in November that Paterson first proposed a freeze on state workers' salaries, most of which are scheduled to rise 3 percent effective April 1, along with a five-day "lag" in paychecks. He renewed this proposal in his December executive budget plan, bringing his total workforce savings target to $366 million.
The original Paterson budget called for a token 500 layoffs, but the governor didn't threaten more. Indeed, right up until this week, he pointedly refused to threaten any specific negative consequences for a union failure to make concessions. In fact, the governor spent much of his first year in office sending conflicting signals on workforce issues.
It was former Gov. Eliot Spitzer who set the current labor pattern in September 2007, with a four-year base-pay hike of 14 percent for the state's largest union. But Paterson agreed to give the same deal to the next-largest state union in April 2008when fiscal storm clouds were already on the horizon.
Last August, Paterson awarded similarly generous raises to state troopers, whose pay already averaged more than $80,000 a year. That deal was announced on the eve of a "crisis" legislative session called by the governor to start cutting the 2008-09 budget.
Crowning those contradictions, Paterson's budget proposal for 2009-10 includes a $145 million reserve fund to finance more retroactive pay increases for the handful of state unions that haven't yet settled on new contracts.
While New York's chief executive was dithering, governors in more than a dozen other states were pressing harder for bigger concessions from their workers:
* California state employees are taking two unpaid days off a month, equivalent to a pay cut of nearly 10 percent, to avert most of the 20,000 layoffs Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger had proposed.
* Ohio workers agreed to take 10 unpaid days off, effectively a pay cut of nearly 4 percent, close to meeting Gov. Ted Strickland's demand for a 5 percent cut.
* Vermont's state-employee union has offered wage freezes and unpaid furloughsbut Gov. Jim Douglas is still pressing for more.
* Delaware Gov. Jack Markell has just unveiled a budget calling on state workers to take an 8 percent wage cut and to shoulder more of their health-insurance premiums.
* New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine says he'll eliminate 7,000 jobs if workers reject a pay freeze and furlough plan.
Paterson apparently believed gentle behind-the-scenes persuasion would be more effective than open threats. But this only induced a false sense of complacency in the state workforce.
Because there has been no credible external pressure from the governor, union leaders have felt no internal pressure from their members to make a deal. Paterson chose the last week of the fiscal year to belatedly signal that he really means businessand, even now, he hasn't put an agency-by-agency-cut plan on the table.
Beyond wage savings, Paterson also has proposed a less expensive pension "tier" for newly hired state and local employees. He's also seeking to curb retiree health benefits, which represent an unfunded long-term liability of $60 billion for New York state government alone.
Changes in pension benefits could be imposed by law, without resort to collective bargaining. But that would require the cooperation of state legislative leaderswho remain cravenly in the unions' corner.
Paterson should point out that President Obama doesn't think such sacrifices are a bad thing. In his inaugural address, Obama singled out "the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job" as an example of the kind of behavior that "sees us through our darkest hours."
Now that the choices are finally out in the open, the governor needs to send a clear and unwavering message to union leaders: These are dark hours for New York taxpayers. You can choose to helpor you can throw up to 8,900 of your own members under the bus this summer, with more job cuts likely in the future.
Original Source: http://www.nypost.com/seven/03272009/postopinion/opedcolumnists/daves_layoff_delay_161544.htm