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PEF spotlights state budget concerns at workforce hearing

PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio testified about the union’s state budget concerns relating to staffing and service reductions at a virtual legislative hearing on the workforce February 2.  Although witnesses were only given three minutes to present their verbal testimony, she also answered legislators’ questions for 90 minutes along with representatives from CSEA and DC 37, which represents workers in New York City.  In addition, PEF submitted more detailed written testimony to the lawmakers.

Many of the legislators praised the heroic efforts of PEF members during the pandemic and offered their condolences for the loss of those who succumbed to COVID-19.

“We really stepped up to the plate and we need your help in making sure this budget is reflective of your real values,” DiAntonio told them.

While the governor’s proposed budget does not call for outright layoffs, it does call for closing some state facilities and state agency mergers that will be very disruptive for clients and for employees who may be forced to bump into lower paying positions, relocate or make longer commutes in order to remain on the state payroll.  The effects will also be a hardship for the New Yorkers receiving the related services.

The state’s budget deficit is “being balanced on the backs of its most needy citizens,” DiAntonio said.  “We don’t have enough people now to get the job done.” Reducing the state workforce by more than 800 workers will only make that situation worse, she said.  “You’re trying to fix the system, by taking away the tools to fix it.”

Among the union’s biggest concerns that she expressed were the proposals to privatize, close, or consolidate some state mental health services and facilities, closing and consolidating the state’s specialized facilities for at-risk youths and cutting the earned benefits of state workers and retirees, which only makes it harder to recruit and retain workers..

The state should learn from the critical shortages and challenges of the pandemic that it needs to enhance and invest in its services and the state’s social safety net, she said.  It would be dangerously counter-productive to ignore the staffing issues, the growing need for mental health services and those for at-risk youths.

“If mental illness is growing in this state, why are we cutting services?” DiAntonio asked.  “This is not a budget that takes care of the heroes or the people who need the services the most.”

The proposed closing of Rockland Children’s Psychiatric Center means there will be no state facility for children in crisis between the Bronx and Utica, a distance that will pose a nearly insurmountable obstacle for maintaining essential family support and contact especially now that so many people have lost their jobs and income.  Likewise, the proposed changes and reductions in services for youths being detained by the courts runs counter to the growing demand for criminal justice reform.

DiAntonio also expressed PEF’s strong opposition to extending the “design, build” concept, which allows private contractors to take over creating and running state projects with little state oversight, to the Office of Information Technology Services.

For more information about the testimony follow these links:

• DiAnotonio’s three-minute testimony here; or
• the entire hearing here. (*DiAntonio begins at about 2:06:30); and
PEF’s written testimony.