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Paterson to Layoff 898 State Workers Before Year's End

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Governor David Paterson says 898 state workers will receive layoff notices, a move that has angered unions that didn't expect job losses before the end of the year.

Paterson had previously said he would eliminate 2,000 jobs, but now says 898 workers will lose their jobs by December 31, which is also the last day that Paterson will serve in office. Paterson says the layoffs will be concentrated in several agencies, including the Departments of Corrections, Environmental Conservation, Transportation, Motor Vehicles, Parks and the State police.

State worker union leaders condemned the plan, saying it won’t achieve its savings goals, and that public services will suffer.

The Public Employees Federation called it an “outrage” and “illegal.” PEF spokeswoman Darcy Wells says the lay offs would violate a memorandum of understanding signed by the Paterson administration and the unions, which guaranteed no lay offs in calendar year 2010.

“We will go to court,” Wells said, as soon as any pink slips are issued.

Wells says around 700 PEF members have told the union that they would have liked to take the early retirement plan offered earlier this year, but their requests were denied. She says if the early retirement offer were re-opened, the state would actually save money, because it does not have to pay unemployment benefits for those who retire.

CSEA spokesman Steve Madarasz says the proposed job losses won’t save the taxpayers money, because those laid off will collect unemployment benefits, which the state finances, and will no longer be able to spend money in the local economy.

“It’s really reckless and irresponsible,” Madarasz said.

Madarasz says cuts to motor vehicles and parks makes no sense because both of those agencies generate revenue through licensing and registration fees and park access charges.

Madarasz says it’s also not just the unions who fear the loss of important public services. He points to the case of the  Department of Environmental Conservation Commissioner Pete Grannis, who was fired last week after an unsigned memo was leaked from his agency. The memo warned of harm to efforts to provide clean water and air in the state, and to regulate polluters.

“The shame is that the Paterson administration chose to silence a voice that spoke out and said this was not in the best public interest,” Madarasz said.

Wells, along with PEF, cites the example of the state’s child abuse hotline. Because of cuts to staffing, remaining employees have had to work overtime, and have cost the state even more money. PEF says the state workforce has already declined by over 11,500 state employees since 2008.

Paterson’s lay off plan also offers a taste of the battles to come when the next governor takes over in 2011. Democratic front runner for governor, Attorney General Andrew Cuomo has said he supports Paterson’s lay off plans, and as the state’s current attorney general, would defend the governor against any potential lawsuit filed by the unions.

Those comments earned him a rebuke from CSEA’s Donahue, who said “shame” on the attorney general, and expressed shock that the state’s top law enforcement officer would advocate breaking the law. 

The next governor will have to negotiate new contracts with the unions, and Donohue says Cuomo “obviously has a lot to learn about managing the state workforce.”