Governor Cuomo pointed out at last week’s budget presentation that New York school districts would find it easier to deal with a proposed cut in state school aid if they froze wages for teachers and administrators.  But given the attitude of most teacher unions, this is easier said than done.

For example, teachers in the Syracuse suburb of Liverpool were asked to consider a voluntary pay freeze to help the district eliminate $1.4 million of a projected $5.7 million budget gap for 2011-12.  The teachers union refused. The union’s president explained that the scheduled 2.2 percent raises for Liverpool teachers “are really fairly minimal.”

Inflation in 2010 was 1.6 percent and is projected by the state Budget Division to be 1.8 percent in 2011.  So those “minimal” raises in Liverpool are comfortably ahead of the increase in the cost of living.

Elsewhere, the Hadley-Luzerne school board recently approved a one-year contract with their teacher’s union, giving members a 2 percent raise.  It’s unclear if the figure includes automatic annual step increments as well.  The raises represent an added expense of $30,000 in 2011-12.  Hadley-Luzerne has to close a projected $750,000 budget gap next year according to this story in the Glens Falls Post Star.

School districts aren’t the only jurisdictions that haven’t been able to persuade unions to forgo wage hikes in light of the fiscal crisis.  Faced with an $11 million budget gap, Sullivan County would have saved about $3.3 million if union members had been willing to defer their next raise, according to the Middletown Times Herald-Record. But the union wouldn’t budge—not even to save jobs—and the county Legislature reluctantly voted for layoffs. Adrian Huff, secretary-treasurer for Teamster’s Local 455 said, “Those legislators that voted for [the layoffs] … they need to go.”  As if Legislators had any other choice.

So don’t buy into the rhetoric that looming layoffs are completely unavoidable. Labor unions all over the state are choosing to force the hand of their employers.

About the Author

Tim Hoefer

Tim Hoefer is president & CEO of the Empire Center for Public Policy.

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