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State worker union urging members to vote for new contract

Leaders of the state worker union, the Public Employees Federation, are waging a campaign style effort to try to convince members to vote yes this time on a new contract. Governor Cuomo says he will not give the union a third chance, and will issue lay offs in less than two weeks if the second contract is rejected.

The union bought space on a large billboard at the entrance to the Empire State Plaza in downtown Albany, where thousands of PEF members work, urging a yes vote on the new contract. They are distributing flyers, have held two telephone town hall meetings, and have offered a toll free number for members who have questions about the contract and the changes from the previous proposal, which was rejected in late September.

Without approval, nearly 3500 union members will be out of a job on November 4th. Those on the lay off list have already been notified, so the other 50,000 or so union members know they will keep their
jobs, for now, even if they vote no.

PEF President Ken Brynien is urging them, though, to look beyond that. 

“I don’t know how you could be a human being, sharing an office with people for decades and then deciding well ‘what’s good for me I don’t care what happens to you, that’s how I’m voting’,” said Brynien.

And the PEF President warns those not on the lay off list now, could be in the new fiscal year, if there’s no new contract agreement.

The proposal differs in some ways from the original contract offer. Nine mandatory furlough days would now be changed to deferred pay. Workers would get the money back after the contract ends, or if they retire during the next four years.

The union members would still be expected to pay more for their health insurances,  but they could draw on unused vacation days to help pay for the increased premiums.

Governor Cuomo says the new contract won’t cost the state any more money than the old one, his requirement was that any changes be revenue neutral. He says he made the extra effort to try to avoid layoffs in hard economic times.

But the governor says there is a limit, and if the contract is not approved this time around, there will not be a third chance.

“This is it,” Cuomo said.  “It’s up to them.”

Ballots have to be in by 9 am November 3rd. If the contract is rejected, lay offs begin Friday November 4th.

Karen DeWitt is Capitol Bureau Chief for New York State Public Radio, a network of 10 public radio stations in New York State. She has covered state government and politics for the network since 1990.