The Paterson administration, which leaves office December 31, is preparing a plan to lay off thousands of state workers on January 1.

Is this real or a merely a threat to force recalcitrant unions to make concessions to achieve the $250 million in workforce savings that Governor David Paterson seeks to help close a $9 billion budget gap?

So far, the unions have nixed proposed wage freezes, salary deferrals and furloughs. Last week, a federal judge rejected Paterson’s plan for a one-day furlough (here and here).

On Friday, the Assembly gave final passage to an early retirement plan (here) proposed by Paterson, who has yet to show whether it would produce long-term savings (here).

Paterson undercut his negotiating leverage last July when his administration signed a pledge not to lay off members of the Civil Service Employees Association and Public Employees Federation (PEF) before December 31, 2010. However, New York Times reports Paterson has not ruled out breaking the no-layoff pledge (here).

“There are people who are encouraging the governor” to break the no-layoffs pledge before Jan. 1, the official said. “That’s an option he has. And it’s something he will decide on after we’ve laid out the layoff plan.”

The no-layoffs pledge does not apply to state employees not represented by CSEA and PEF.

According to an unidentified “senior administration official” involved in preparing the January layoff plan, “Mr. Paterson would direct state agencies to begin picking which positions could be eliminated starting Jan. 1, 2011,” the Times reports.

“We’re going to use that as an opportunity to further restructure the government and look at programs and departments we may need to eliminate.
“State government has gotten too expensive. It can’t be everything to everybody. The timing also gives the next administration a chance to look at the plan.”

If layoffs are delayed until the January–the final quarter of the state’s fiscal year–the state presumably would have to make deeper workforce reductions to achieve the $250 million in savings Paterson seeks.

The actual number of January layoffs will depend on the number of employees taking advantage of the early retirement program, the Times reports.

Originally Published: NY Public Payroll Watch, June 1, 2010

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