Cuomo vetoes union giveaways

by Ken Girardin |  | NY Torch

Governor Andrew Cuomo has vetoed two measures that were legislative priorities for public-sector unions.

The first bill (S5737/A5342) would have subjected upstate transit providers to mandatory binding arbitration during contract disputes with their unionized employees. Even the measure’s Assembly sponsor couldn’t explain how the change would serve the public interest, and it would have opened the floodgates to other unions (including state government’s largest bargaining units) seeking the same privilege.

As explained in this space last month:

If this bill is signed, upstate transit authorities will have a harder time getting their unions to agree to changes needed to meet changing ridership patterns and technologies. If employers demand concessions, unions can respond (after perfunctory stalling) by pursuing raises through arbitration.

Binding arbitration is bad policy because it vests decision-making in unaccountable panelists instead of executives who ultimately answer to elected officials. For transit authorities, it’s an especially bad fit because their revenues come mainly from public subsidies, which are outside their control, or the fare box, where hikes result in fewer people being able to access service. 

The governor made a similar point in his veto message:

Binding arbitration undermines the public’s employers [sic] bargaining ability, which ultimately drives up labor costs and hurts New York State taxpayers. Unnecessarily ceding a final decision over compensation and benefits to a third party will result in a loss of oversight and control for all involved parties.

The second bill (S6048/A5459) is a perennial priority for the Public Employee Federation, a union representing about 52,000 state employees primarily in white-collar, professional titles. Since 2012, PEF has pushed to inhibit the state government’s hiring of outside contractors by requiring state agencies to first demonstrate that they couldn’t perform work using state employees. The goal is to provide more work for government employees who belong to or could be signed up for the union.

Cuomo in his veto message said the bill is “duplicative of current practice,” since state Finance Law already requires agencies to justify their use of outside contractors. Governors already have an interest in keeping costs down, and contractors that aren’t bound by PEF’s 247-page contract have greater flexibility to deliver services.

This is the third time Cuomo has rejected attempts by PEF and the Legislature to discourage him and future governors from using outside contractors. But now that the Janus v. AFSCME ruling has given state workers a choice of whether to pay dues or fees to unions, PEF can be expected to keep pushing such legislation.

PEF’s card-carrying membership was 50,374 as of the end of November, down from 51,992 at the end of November 2017 (when people were still forced to pay). The figure is likely to keep falling as retiring members are replaced by people who choose not to join.

Another 165 bills are awaiting the governor’s signature or veto.

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- Ken Girardin is the Policy Analyst at the Empire Center for Public Policy.