Cuomo frees state employees to watch soccer

by E.J. McMahon |  | NY Torch

Screen-Shot-2014-06-26-at-4.05.08-PM-150x150No, it is not April 1: Gov. Andrew Cuomo really did give all New York State employees “an extra hour for extended lunch” to watch the mid-day World Cup soccer match between the U.S. and Germany.

An hour’s worth of time for all 125,555 full-time equivalent employees of the executive branch of state government translates into at least $4 million in wages and salaries, based on the latest payroll data from the state comptroller’s office. That assumes a 40-hour work week — but since many classes of state employees work a 37.5-hour week, the true value is a bit higher.

This doesn’t mean the state actually spent $4 million more to allow its workers to watch the game, of course. But it does mean that, assuming all state employees actually took advantage of the governor’s offer, they were being paid $4 million by the taxpayers to not work.*  (Unfortunately, the U.S. lost, 1-0.)

Cuomo announced the free hour in an open letter to Jürgen Klinsmann, coach of the U.S. soccer team, which was released by the governor’s press office just before noon, at 11:51 a.m. The letter in its entirety:

Dear Coach Klinsmann,

I was pleased to read your letter providing American soccer fans with a form excuse to their boss requesting time off to watch the USA-Germany match today.

The State of New York stands strongly behind Team USA. Therefore, I am approving an extra hour for an extended lunch today for every New York State employee, beginning at 12:00 PM, so they can root Team USA on to victory.

On behalf of all New Yorkers, I wish you and the entire team the best of luck. New York believes that we will win.

Best regards,
Governor Andrew M. Cuomo

At the bottom of the print version of the letter, as on all the governor’s stationery, is Cuomo’s official slogan:

We Work for the People

Except, it seems, when there’s a big game on.

Precedent, anyone?

In the long run, if this is remembered at all, it will probably be as a harmless stunt, a patriotic gesture in an election year.

Except, remember, most of these workers belong to unions. Here’s how a shop steward might think about this:

Will employees be subject to discipline if they were caught taking the hour off for some other purpose — say, shopping, or sleeping?  

What about employees who positioned themselves in front of a TV or computer screen showing the soccer match, but then deliberately fell asleep instead of rooting?  Or sat in front of the game but didn’t pay attention, instead shopping for swimwear using their handheld device?

Or they started out rooting but (this being soccer, after all), naturally got so bored they feel deeply asleep during the second half hour?  

What about state employees who took the hour, turned on the game … and rooted for Germany?

Will there be an extended lunch hour for all future World Cup matches involving the U.S. Team?  

Based on this precedent, will the same extended hour be available if the Yankees or Mets make the playoffs in the fall?   (And what if the Red Sox qualify? Sure, it’s a Massachusetts team, but there are many Sox fans among Albany-based state workers. Probably more Sox fans than U.S. soccer fans, truth be told.)

To be fair, shouldn’t state workers who were off today get an hour of comp time?

If the governor establishes a pattern of impulsively granting extended hour-long extra breaks to watch sporting events in the future, will it legally constitute a “past practice” effectively locked into state union contracts in perpetuity?

When it comes to public-sector labor relations, there is no such thing as a ridiculous question.

* Presumably, state troopers, corrections officers, mental health attendants and other employees in sensitive positions didn’t actually stop patrolling highways or watching inmates or patients while the soccer match was on. But assuming that, say, all 2,673 FTEs in the Economic Development and Business Regulation agencies alone suspended their normal bureaucratic activities for an hour, it would translate into $95,567 in wages and salaries effectively spent on rooting for team USA.

- E.J. McMahon is the President at the Empire Center for Public Policy.