WXXI Local Stories
4:25 am
Thu December 4, 2008

Unions Gear Up for Potential Budget Battle

Albany, New York – State worker unions are gearing up for what they expect will be a battle with Governor David Paterson, over how the governor will try to close a looming multi-billion dollar budget gap.

State employee unions worry that their members could be targeted when Governor David Paterson presents his spending plan later this month. His proposal will attempt to close a budget gap that's now approaching $15 billion dollars.

The governor has already asked the unions for a number of concessions, including a five-day pay delay, forgoing planned raises for 2009, and reducing health benefits to retirees.

At the time, a spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association said he was "appalled" by the proposals. The legislature never acted on them.

In August, the CSEA ran advertisements attacking Paterson for cuts he was proposing last summer. But so far, they are trying to stay positive, airing ads that focus on the positive attributes of state workers, and saying they want to be "part of the solution, not the problem".

The President of the Public Employees Federation, Ken Brynien, says he's still hoping that unions can work with the governor to save money and save members' jobs.

Brynien has offered a plan to phase out the use of outside contractors, who are on average paid more than state workers for doing the same types of duties. He says the savings from that change alone is worth $400m, more than the $300m he says the governor would have gained from all of the give backs that he was asking from the workers.

Other ideas to save money from unions include buying prescription drugs for state health insurance plans through Canada, which is estimated to save nearly half a billion dollars. Also, enforcing a law to collect taxes on cigarettes and other products sold on Indian lands, and tapping into the state's rainy day fund.

An early retirement program, while not favored by Paterson, has been talked about in the legislature. PEF President Brynien says he'd be open to that.

"If that's an alternative to lay offs, then yes," said Brynien.

Brynien initially offered his suggestions to the governor in a meeting back in October. He says he's disappointed that that Paterson did not propose the ideas as part of his November budget closing plan, and hopes that some of the plans will be incorporated into the December 16th budget presentation.

The unions are hedging their bets, though. A massive demonstration is planned on January 7th, to coincide with Paterson's State of the State presentation. It will include members of state worker unions, a well as the AFL-CIO, and the health care workers union 1199.