The idea of freezing wages of public employees has gained bipartisan support and picked up steam in newspaper editorials around the state in recent days.

In an op-ed in the Week in Review section of The New York Times, former U.S. Sen. Alfonse D’Amato called for a wage freeze along with an overhaul of the state’s “exorbitant defined benefits” pension plan. D’Amato, still one of the state’s most prominent Republicans, wrote:

First, our legislators must take a stand against special interests, particularly the public-sector unions. Their large checkbooks have made them equal-opportunity terrorizers, able to buy both Republicans and Democrats. Because of their influence, state workers last year avoided not only layoffs but even milder measures like a wage freeze similar to the one New York City employees negotiated to help the city recover from its fiscal crisis in 1975.
Such a freeze must now be on the table.

Last week, Assemblyman Sam Hoyt of Buffalo and three other Democratic Assembly members asked unionized teachers to agree to voluntarily freeze their wages (here).

In Buffalo, the school superintendent warned of 680 layoffs (here), the Buffalo News editorialized a wage freeze “merits serious union consideration” (here).

The Rochester Democrat & Chronicle–which last Sunday argued for freezing the 4 percent raises state workers are due on April 1 (here)–a week later argued that other public workers, including teachers, “shouldn’t be immune from sacrifices”(here).

Jobs and livelihoods could be spared if more public workers, including those employed by every local municipality, made sacrifices. This has nothing to do with being punitive….
It’s about coping with harsh economic realities the way that most New Yorkers are already doing.

Echoing that theme, the Catskill Daily Mail urged unions and governmental employees “to tighten their belts and give up their contractual raises” to save jobs of other workers (here).

Tucked in an editorial about “Senate slime,” the New York Daily News opined “a pay freeze for state workers should be on the table” (here).

Observing a wage freeze “is gaining traction,” Newsday notes that a freeze on teacher salaries “could save $1.2 billion next year, roughly equivalent to the $1.4-billion reduction the governor wants to make to education in his budget”( here–by paid subscription only).

The Glens Falls Post-Star, which endorsed a freeze on teacher salaries in January (here) returned to the topic this Sunday (here), noting four Democrats in the Assembly majority, “known particularly for kissing up to the teachers’ unions, ” have proposed a wage freeze.

To be that bold with a major player like NYSUT can only mean that lawmakers now fear the wrath of taxpayers more than they fear the unions.

In a news article, Gannett News Service reports state employees are scheduled to get $478 million in raises beginning April 1 (here). Public employee unions reject a wage freeze and instead call for higher taxes.

In the Syracuse and Buffalo areas, pay freezes also aren’t popular with unions (here and here).

Since Governor David Paterson imposed a hiring freeze in 2008, the state had added 51,464 employees to its payroll, the Syracuse Post-Standard reports (here). Many were hired to fill critical jobs–such as corrections workers and mental health workers–after those jobs became vacant. However, others hires seem to defy the freeze. For example, the hiring of former Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll who “makes $155,000 in an environmental job the governor created for him.”

Had Paterson’s “hard freeze” been less mushy, the state potentially have trimmed thousands of additional workers by attrition.

Two days before the Syracuse story appeared, a New York Times editorial questioned Governor Paterson’s attrition policy, saying the state employs more workers than it can afford (here).

About 16,000 full-time employees will depart this year. Mr. Paterson says that all but about 700 will be replaced. That makes no sense. It’s time to slow down the Albany patronage train and replace only the most vital workers. If only half were rehired, it would save at least $400 million. It’s also time to address the unions’ fringe benefits that are a big part of the structural deficit Mr. Ravitch has been battling.

The Empire Center’s “Blueprint for a Better Budget” (here) explains how and why the governor and Legislature could impose a temporary public-sector wage freeze if unions refuse to make such concession voluntarily. On the topic in The Capitol, see here.

Future: A look at school districts where teachers unions have agreed to wage freezes or reductions. Reader contributions welcome here.

Originally Published: NY Public Payroll Watch

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