Overcast 56° Good Morning
Overcast 56° Good Morning

Union layoffs a painful trade-off

Unionized state workers fill the lawn outside the

Unionized state workers fill the lawn outside the Capitol during a rally in Albany (June 20, 2011) Photo Credit: Albany Times Union/Paul Buckowski

In these hard times, Americans inhabit two different economies. One is for educated, white-collar workers, and they aren't doing horribly. But the other is a much harsher economy in which blue-collar workers are pounded by unemployment.

That may explain why the 56,000-member Public Employees Federation, representing white-collar state workers in New York, rejected virtually the same austere contract OKd by blue-collar workers at the Civil Service Employees Association.

PEF workers may feel more employable in today's economy. And they saw the contract as more onerous. For example, both contracts had clauses that triggered higher health insurance contributions for workers who earn more. So while most CSEA workers will have to chip in 2 percent, the higher pay of PEF workers means they would have had to kick in 6 percent.

PEF members also were unhappy that their numbers are down by 12,000 as a result of attrition, requiring the remaining employees to work harder. This made a contractual wage-freeze even less palatable to them.

These concerns are understandable, but they should have ratified the contract anyway. Cuomo, who's avoided the divisive anti-union rhetoric seen elsewhere, says the alternative is up to 3,500 layoffs -- a hardship for workers as well as taxpayers who need their services. Better that the pact be tweaked at the bargaining table, and workers approve it in a second ballot.