Cuomo settles contract with portion of prison guard union

PHOTO: patja / via

With just six weeks left in the state’s fiscal year, the Cuomo Administration has still not settled labor contracts with some significant unions, including all of the state’s prisons guards, and professors and other staff at the State University System.

Governor Cuomo sought $250 million dollars in workforce savings in the current state budget, which expires on March 31st. He said the money would come either through union concession in new contracts, or from up to 10,000 lay offs.

The two largest state worker unions have already settled on new contracts with givebacks, though one of them, the Public Employees Federation, had to hold a second vote, after the agreement was initially voted down. The contract only passed after the Cuomo Administration targeted 3500 workers for termination, and improved some retirement arrangements.  PEF and CSEA agreed to contracts that freeze wages for two years, require employees to pay more for their health insurance benefits, and nine furlough days, which they will be reimbursed for at the end of the contract.

On Thursday, the law enforcement segment of the state prison guards union, the New York State Correctional Officers and Police Benevolent Association, or NYSCOPBA, settled on a new contract with the state on very similar terms. State Operations Director Howard Glaser announced the agreement.

“It’s a win- win,” Glaser said.

The union had been working without a contract since 2009.

In exchange for the give backs, union members receive greater lay off protections, Glaser says.

“There’s an additional level of job security in exchange for the sacrifices and the contributions that  the union members have made toward meeting the state’s fiscal challenges.,” said Glaser.  But, he said, “it’s not unlimited.”

There still could be layoffs in the future if the state’s economy experiences a sudden downturn, or if more prisons are closed. New York shuttered 8 prisons and 4 work camps last year, but nearly all of the guards and other staff were transferred to new jobs. The governor has not proposed any new closures in his budget for the next fiscal year, which begins on April 1st.

And the lay off threat remains for the majority of the correctional officers, as well as other outstanding unions that have not yet agreed to a contract.  The law enforcement officers represent just 1600 of the 26,000 members of NYSCOPBA. Union President Donn Rowe, says those talks are ongoing, but he praised the Cuomo Administration negotiators for achieving the agreement with at least part of the union.

“Both sides did it with respect,” said Rowe.

United University Professions,  the third largest public worker union in New York, has not settled its contract with the Cuomo Administration.  UUP represents 35,000 SUNY professors and support staff, as well as doctors, nurses and medical technicians at the state university medical schools.  A spokeswoman for the union says the two sides are “talking regularly” and were meeting Thursday and Friday. The union’s web site says the talks have reached a “new phase”, with “more extensive discussions”.

The union representing the State Police has also not yet agreed to a new contract.

The agreement with the law enforcement workers saves the state $12 and a half million dollars. The NYSCOBPA law enforcement union members will finish voting on their contract by early March.