CSEA chief decries layoffs, asks Westchester to amend 2013 budget

Karen Pechora of Cortlandt Manor speaks at a Karen Pechora of Cortlandt Manor speaks at a press conference held by the CSEA at White Plain's County building. Members are protesting budget cuts that may threaten union jobs. (Dec. 11, 2012) Photo Credit: Newsday Lili Holzer-Glier

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Leaders of Westchester County's largest labor union Tuesday urged County Executive Rob Astorino to resume labor negotiations to prevent around 100 layoffs contained in the 2013 budget approved last week with the support of two breakaway Democratic legislators.

"Countless people in this county are going to be hurt as a result of the county executive's malicious approach to governing," said Karen Pecora, a Parks Department employee who is president of the Civil Service Employees Association, or CSEA, which represents about 3,200 county workers.

There is still time to amend the county's $1.7 billion budget before the legal deadline of Dec. 27 to keep people employed, but she said Astorino, a Republican, is evoking the specter of layoffs to force the union to make concessions.

"This is union busting, bullying, a tactic to get us to the table to support proposals that are not acceptable to our members," said Pecora, who has a personal incentive to go back to the bargaining table. "My position is being eliminated. I'll be out of a job at the end of the year."

But Astorino rejected the union's plea. In a statement, spokeswoman Donna Greene said the CSEA missed its chance to reach an agreement, so the cuts would proceed as Astorino promised in the $1.7 billion budget adopted for next year.

"The budget approved Friday by a bipartisan coalition of the Board of Legislators and signed by County Executive Astorino is the final budget for 2013," Green said. "It is a good, solid budget, a result of compromises by both sides."

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In October, Astorino vowed not to raise taxes to plug a projected $85 million shortfall in 2013 and threatened to lay off as many as 250 CSEA workers unless the union agreed to pay a portion of its health care costs. Other unions have agreed to similar measures.

"If the union had followed the lead of three other county unions and contributed to the cost of their health care -- as Astorino has been asking them to do for three years -- many if not all of the layoffs could have been averted," Greene said.

Pecora said the union had offered to pay a share of its health care costs. But the union wanted to pay smaller proportions of those costs compared with the other unions. CSEA members on average earn about $62,000 a year, not including benefits, while the other unions' members earn $96,000 on average before benefits, she said.

"To ask someone who makes $35,000 a year to pay the same as someone who makes $135,000 a year just isn't fair," she said.

It's not clear whether Pecora has many options. The chairman of the Board of Legislators, Ken Jenkins (D-Yonkers), is weighing whether he should challenge Astorino's budget in court or via another board vote..

In the meantime, the CSEA said it would not forget how Legis. Mike Kaplowitz (D-Somers) and Virginia Perez (D-Yonkers) crossed party lines to support Astorino's budget.

"I am annoyed," said CSEA regional president Billy Riccaldo. "We don't know who's going to run and what kind of position we're going to be in, but we will deal with them."

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