By MARK TOOR, courtesy of The Chief Leader
WAYNE SPENCE: ‘Hard work, cooperation paid off.’
GOVERNOR CUOMO: More carrot, less stick.
Members of the Public Employees Federation voted overwhelmingly to ratify a new contract with the Cuomo administration, the union announced Dec. 14. Ninety six percent of the 30,434 ballots cast favored approval of the contract, which runs through March 2019, the union said. Sixty percent of the members voted. The contract, which is retroactive to April 1, provides annual raises of 2 percent.
‘A Historic Moment’
“This is a historic moment for PEF,” the union’s president, Wayne Spence, said in a statement. “…PEF approached this round of bargaining with the principle of being respectful, yet prepared to fight for what our members need and deserve. This contract is an example of what hard work and dutiful cooperation can accomplish from both PEF’s team and the Governor’s negotiators.”
“I applaud PEF President Wayne Spence, the PEF Executive Board and the PEF membership on ratifying the contract,” Mr. Cuomo said in his own statement. “This agreement will continue to protect the rights of our state’s workforce while maintaining the fiscal responsibility our taxpayers deserve.”
The mood was very different from the last negotiation of a multiyear contract in 2011, when Mr. Cuomo sought to make up a $10 billion budget deficit largely by squeezing state employee unions, whose contracts were up for renegotiation. The state offered a five year deal that included a three-year pay freeze followed by two raises of 2 percent each; nine unpaid furlough days, four of which would be paid in future years; and increases in healthcare premiums as great as 60 percent.
Used Layoffs As Leverage
If the unions failed to accept the deal, Mr. Cuomo said then, he would lay off as many as 9,800 state workers. The union representing the greatest number of state employees, the Civil Service Employees Association, was the first to accept those terms. The CSEA polled its members and found their overriding concern was keeping their jobs. Its negotiating committee signed off and members ratified the contract. PEF reluctantly accepted similar terms, but its members voted down the deal. The rejection triggered angry rhetoric from Mr. Cuomo and surrogates who blamed PEF leaders, particularly then President Ken Brynien, for failing to sell the pact to members. The threats of layoffs went into high gear. In new negotiations, the state refused to add money to the package but said funds could be moved around to achieve other goals. Mr. Brynien worked out three major changes.
The contract length was cut from five years to four in hope of giving PEF, rather than CSEA, the opportunity to set the pattern for the next round of negotiations. A $1,000 “retention bonus” was scrapped in favor of paying members for all nine furlough days. The pact also increased the discount given on health insurance to members who traded in vacation days to get a break on payments. Members ratified the contract, but many said they did so only because they didn’t want to see their less senior colleagues laid off in a bad economy. Ill feelings left by the contract and low morale in general led to Mr. Brynien’s defeat for a third term in 2012 by Susan Kent. She in turn was defeated last year by Mr. Spence.
No negotiations took place in the first year after the PEF contract expired. But the Cuomo administration offered a one year contract with a 2 percent raise, no increase in healthcare costs and no givebacks, which got PEF even with CSEA for the original five year contract period. It was ratified by 97 percent of members.
To Influence CSEA Talks
CSEA is continuing to negotiate a new contract, meaning PEF may have set the pattern for this round after all. “The strong showing on the one year retro contract gave us strength and leverage at the bargaining table, and the strong showing today will translate into PEF power as we face budget, legislative and other challenges before us in 2017,” Mr. Spence said in a letter to chapter leaders.