The COVID shutdown left more than a million New Yorkers in line for unemployment benefits, but most New York state employees are in line for pay raises next week.

Union contracts inked prior to the pandemic call for most state workers to see 2 percent across-the-board pay hikes this year. About 65,000 workers represented by the Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) and about 20,000 correctional officers were set for pay bumps on April 1 and another 30,000 state university employees were set to get them on July 1. Both hikes were temporarily delayed as the state grappled with a roughly $8 billion budget gap, but those postponements expire October 1.

The Cuomo administration, which postponed the raises using a little-known (and untested) portion of state law, has been unusually secretive about the process. Neither the state’s labor relations office nor the Budget Division would share copies of letters notifying state employee unions about the delays when requested under the state Freedom of Information Law.

To be sure, Governor Cuomo hasn’t stated any objection to people getting raises in the midst of an economic crisis. He said in April that he wanted “to buy some time” as he pleaded with the federal government to provide the state with unrestricted cash aid—which could be used to pay for retroactive raises. And the governor was only restricting the across-the-board raises, not automatic pay increases tied to seniority. Almost six months later, it’s increasingly unlikely Congress will deliver the type and level of aid Cuomo is seeking any time soon.

What Cuomo should have been doing was working with the Legislature to adopt a statutory pay freeze for both state and local employees—a tool to help control costs, preserve services, and avoid layoffs that federal courts upheld as recently as May. But unlike state government, school districts and local governments haven’t been able to unilaterally postpone raises, and instead had to continue paying them as scheduled. In some cases, that’s forced them to make layoffs to help pay for raises. A pay freeze would save about $1.9 billion during the first year, including about $359 million for state government itself.

Letting state raises proceed would be especially unseemly given that a cadre of state employees received full pay this spring without reporting to work. Unlike many local governments, state agencies did not furlough any idled employees—even though enhanced unemployment insurance benefits would have made many if not most furloughed employees whole.

State officials haven’t yet released an estimate on how much they paid idled workers, but the Times Union reported in May that 36,178 out of 119,135 employees, or just over 30 percent, were working remotely. State officials have not yet disclosed how many of the remaining 70 percent were reporting to work in-person—or how many didn’t work at all.

Data from local governments indicate the figure could be substantial. An audit by the Erie County Comptroller, for instance, showed the county paid $5.9 million for hours not worked. An analysis by the Syracuse Post-Standard found that the City paid police officers about $227,000 to stay home amid the shutdown—while also paying officers $850,000 in overtime.

Cuomo this month said he is not “accepting” the idea that Congress won’t be sending unrestricted aid. But the governor’s failure to take a basic cost-control step like a pay freeze—that is, to stop letting his and local governments’ costs grow—makes it less likely that he can cajole Washington into cutting the state a check with as many zeros as he thinks it deserves.

You may also like

DeRosa Is Still Hiding the Truth About Cuomo’s Pandemic Response

As the long-time top aide to former Governor Andrew Cuomo, Melissa DeRosa ought to have useful information to share about the state's pandemic response – especially about what went wrong and how the state could be better Read More

At mid-year, NY still far below most states in pandemic jobs recovery

New York has added private-sector jobs in all but three of the 38 months since the COVID-19 outbreak of March 2020—but the Empire State remains below its pre-pandemic employment level and continues to trail the national recovery. On a seasonally adju Read More

Emails Confirm That Cuomo’s Staff Launched Its ‘Book’ Project in March 2020

A pair of state-employed writers began researching, outlining and drafting a book about Governor Andrew Cuomo's pandemic response in late March 2020, weeks before New York's harrowing first wave had passed, according to newly disclosed email records. Read More

The Health Department Releases a Fuller Accounting of COVID’s Deadly First Year

The state Health Department has belatedly published a more complete COVID death count for the pandemic's first year, accounting for more than 6,000 victims who were left out of the state's previous tallies because they died Read More

Emails show Cuomo’s staff working on his memoir at the peak of New York’s pandemic

Newly available records shed further light on the origins of former Gov. Andrew Cuomo's pandemic memoir, which won him a $5.1 million publishing contract before contributing to his political downfall. The records reveal that his government staff were a Read More

At end of ’22, NY still near bottom in pandemic recovery

The more time passes since the spring 2020 Covid-19 outbreak, the more New York stands out among all states for the weakness of its post-pandemic employment recovery. As of December, seasonally adjusted private employment in New York was still nearly 2 Read More

The AG’s nursing home lawsuits are a wake-up call for the Health Department

Attorney General Letitia James' recent lawsuits against nursing homes have not only exposed dangerous conditions for the residents – but also dangerous blind spots at the Health Department. Read More

The AG’s Nursing Home Lawsuit Scratches the Surface of Widespread Issues

The attorney general's just-filed lawsuit against the Villages of Orleans nursing home has implications that reach far beyond a single facility in western New York. In addition to c Read More

Empire Center Logo Enjoying our work? Sign up for email alerts on our latest news and research.
Together, we can make New York a better place to live and work!