State unions brace for impact of layoffs

As the state’s private-sector job count continues its climb out of a deep, recession-driven hole, recent talk surrounding New York’s public jobs has focused on one word: layoffs.

The state’s 2011-12 budget threatens massive layoffs if negotiators can’t come to an agreement with public-employee unions on how to cut $450 million in personnel costs.

But the budget also calls for $100 million in savings by eliminating or consolidating certain agencies and facilities.

That means a portion of the threatened 9,800 layoffs will go through regardless of what happens at the bargaining table, according Morris Peters, a spokesman for Gov. Andrew Cuomo’s budget office.

“The 9,800 number is a maximum number,” Peters said. “The right-size initiatives are included in that number.”

That came as a bit of a surprise to some of the unions, which had been operating under the belief that potential layoffs from consolidation were outside of the 9,800.

“Everybody was under a different impression,” said Stephen Madarasz, a spokesman for the state Civil Service Employees Association. “They were indicating from the time it was released that it would be 9,800 on top of whatever was included in the consolidations.”

It’s unknown just how many layoffs will occur as a result of the state’s agency and facility slimming, but some are already under way.

The budget for the Office of Children and Family Service’s Juvenile Justice Division, for example, calls for a reduction of 371 salaried jobs, though some of that number will be achieved through attrition, a spokeswoman said.

The state also hopes to save $72 million by eliminating 3,700 beds in state prisons, though the number of layoffs won’t be available until the governor’s office releases a closure plan. Cuomo said Friday that the plan would be released in the next several weeks.

The state released a plan earlier this month to reduce beds in facilities operated by the Office of Mental Health, which includes a complete closure of the Hudson River Psychiatric Center in Poughkeepsie. The office also plans to shut wards or units at psychiatric facilities in Rochester, Buffalo, Binghamton and Rockland County.

Any layoffs from the mental health facility reductions have yet to be announced.

Darcy Wells, a spokeswoman for the state Public Employees Federation, said union members are “sitting on eggshells.”

“We’re getting calls from our members and we’re meeting with them, but we’re very frustrated that we can’t tell them anything about what it will mean for them,” Wells said.

The public-sector job loss is part of a continuing trend in New York, which lost more than 40,000 total jobs across all levels of government from April 2010 to April 2011, according to the state Department of Labor.

On top of layoffs threatened in the executive branch, the state’s court system announced 357 job cuts Wednesday.

And the New York State United Teachers union estimates as many as 16,000 education jobs were cut in school budget votes on Tuesday, though the state School Boards Association pegs the number several thousand fewer. Those school cuts are the result of a $1.3 billion cut in school aid adopted in the state budget in late March.

While some job cuts are inevitable, Peters said the bulk of the 9,800 threatened layoffs within the executive branch could be avoided if unions were willing to give back.

“The governor has said from the get-go that layoffs are a last resort,” he said. “To avoid them, there would need to be union concessions, and only absent that will we see as many as 9,800 layoffs.”


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