ALBANY - Gov. David A. Paterson and Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver Monday ratcheted up pressure on state employee unions, warning layoffs could occur if $250 million in concessions aren't forthcoming.
However, union officials said New York cannot terminate members of the Civil Service Employees Association and Public Employees Federation until 2011 because of an agreement reached last year. It guaranteed no layoffs in exchange for union support of a less-expensive pension plan for new workers and an early retirement program.
Talk of layoffs came on the eve of Tuesday's votes on school budgets statewide. Paterson said that widespread defeats could spur movement in negotiations over the state budget, which is 48 days late.
He said voters will be "saying you can't spend money you don't have - saying that it is time to make the tough decisions."
Last week, state employee unions won a temporary victory when a federal judge blocked Paterson's plan to furlough 100,000 workers for one day per week without pay until a new budget is enacted. A hearing is scheduled for May 26 in federal court in Albany.
The ruling increased speculation about layoffs, which last occurred in large numbers under Gov. George Pataki in the 1990s.
Paterson said Monday the $250-million reduction in labor costs needed to close a $9.2-billion budget deficit would be achieved "if every [unionized] member of the state workforce that is nonessential took eight furlough days.
"We could also get there by laying off several people," he said, without specifying a number. He cautioned there was no plan for layoffs, but acknowledged talk of them in his administration.
Paterson added, "I thought that the collective sacrifice of the many [through furloughs] was better than the unemployment of the few."
Silver (D-Manhattan) predicted the courts would uphold terminations of state workers if Paterson chose that route. "I think they can be legally done," Silver said. "He is the manager of the state workforce."
But CSEA spokesman Stephen Madarasz called the layoff talk a distraction from negotiations over the 2010-11 budget. "This is phony baloney," he said. "We have a legally binding document that's been upheld in court."
He was referring to a temporary restraining order issued by a state Supreme Court justice barring the layoff of 18 workers at a Queens facility for the developmentally disabled. The judge cited last year's no-layoffs agreement between Paterson and unions.
Asked Monday about the ruling, Paterson said the fiscal crisis trumped the no-layoffs pledge.
He also said the results of Tuesday's school budget votes could potentially break the logjam over the state budget. He predicted the rejection of many budgets by hard-pressed homeowners.
"People will be very surprised when the public, not the legislature, not the governor, the public votes down those plans," Paterson said.
However, Silver forecast smooth sailing for most school budgets. He also said the Assembly, joining with the State Senate, has no plans to take up Paterson's proposal to again delay school aid payments because of the fiscal crisis. The money is due June 1 but the governor wants to put off full payment until June 30, the end of school-district fiscal years.