Albany, NY —
Thousands of state workers rallied in Albany and around the state today, protesting Gov. David Paterson’s plan to include one-day-a-week furloughs in the emergency spending bills issued to keep the state running while the budget is late.
Legislators planned to reluctantly vote on Paterson’s furlough plan, saying they could not shut down the government.
About 2,000 state workers used their lunch hour to protest Paterson’s plan. Protesters erected a giant blowup balloon rat, and many held signs reading “Furlough this," with an unflattering photo of the governor with his fingers in his ears. In the speeches, more vitriol was directed against the governor, including from Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) President Danny Donohue.
“Somebody said the rat is a good symbol of the governor," Donohue said. "I say that’s an insult to a rodent."
Paterson told radio station 810 WGY in Schenectedy that he added the furloughs to the spending measure because unions have been unwilling to help.
"Between January and now, which is four months, we haven't been able to get a concession from the unions, nor did we get one last year," the governor said.
Union leaders say the state worker payroll accounts for only 8 percent of the total budget, and they are being unfairly picked on. Donohue says what amounts to a 20 percent pay cut for 300,000 New York workers will hurt the economy.
“It’s a lose-lose situation," Donohue said, adding that the public will suffer as government services are reduced.
Paterson is already holding back state workers’ scheduled 4 percent pay raises, which were due in April. He is saying he can’t afford to give them out until the legislature agrees to close a $9.2 billion deficit and settles on a new state budget, which is now more than 40 days late.
Legislators asked their legal experts to look at whether the furlough language could be separated out of the emergency spending bills. That way, legislators could vote to keep government running, but reject the furlough proposal. But the lawyers failed to come up with a way out. Lawmakers, who believe the furloughs are illegal, were in the end forced to vote for them, or shut the government down, something Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver refuses to do.
“We’re not stopping government,” Silver said.
In the Senate, Albany Democratic Senator Neil Breslin, who has many state workers in his district, offered a resolution declaring the furloughs illegal, and explained why lawmakers could not simply reject the bills and shut government down. He said it would create "chaos," ending vital services like the Department of Motor Vehicles and construction projects, stopping unemployment checks and halting health insurance for workers.
“Someone who might need an operation the next day would have to pay for it themselves,” said Breslin.
The resolution was approved on a voice vote.
Silver spoke for the majority of legislators when he predicted that the courts will overturn the furlough provision.
"I think it interferes with the collective bargaining agreement under federal and state law,” said Silver.
Union leaders planned to seek immediate court action, and are asking for a temporary restraining order against the one-day-a-week layoffs.