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As Layoffs Loom, Some State Workers Say They Were Denied Early Retirement

By Michael Benjamin


Seneca Falls, NY – New York State offered public employees an early retirement incentive this year to try to trim the workforce and avoid layoffs in the face of projected multi-billion dollar budget deficits.

Now, despite more than 1,100 state workers taking the state up on that offer, Governor Paterson has proposed nearly 900 layoffs by the end of this year. But at a number of state agencies, workers tried to take the incentive and were denied.

One of those workers is Greg Lazzaro from Seneca Falls. He's a habilitation specialist at the Finger Lakes Development Disabilities Services Center in Newark. With 29 years on the job, and a provision in the early retirement incentive that would give him credit for an additional month of service for each year served, he thought the plan might be for him.

"I've always said that I would retire with or at 32 years of service," Lazzaro says, "it was almost like a dream come true. I'd retire two years earlier if I was allowed to take the early retirement incentive."

But, he was not allowed.

Herm Hill is the communications director with the agency Lazzaro works for, The Office for People With Developmental Disabilities.

"You're dealing with an organization that really is staffed by professionals who are in their jobs solely to provide the care to people with developmental disabilities," Hill says, "and it's a critical position that they have. We cannot diminish our ability to continue to deliver those services at all - and that overriding mission drives all the decisions that we make, particularly with regard to staffing and personnel."

Hill says a stipulation of the early retirement incentive said agencies could deny workers if their job title was deemed to be critical to public health and safety. Lazzaro says that's why he was denied the incentive, but he doesn't agree with it.

"Do I think it's a job that helps people and serves people and gives quality programming?" he asks. "Yes, I do. Is it critical to the public health and safety? No, I really don't believe that."

Even if he did believe it, Lazzaro says there are ways around that stipulation.

"Your title - if it's deemed critical - they can take that title, exchange it with another title and lose the other title, versus the title that is deemed critical to human health and safety."

He says the state should have let him do that, or whatever they needed to do in order to allow workers to leave the workforce voluntarily by retiring, instead of laying off less senior employees, which is the current plan.

Greg says it would have been nice to be able to retire this year, but he's not bitter.

"I think at this point in my career, I'm ready to retire," he says, "I've been working for the state for 30 years, in the field since 1977. I'm ready for my new stage of life."

Lazzaro will have to wait another two years to get to his goal of 32 years of service. In the meantime, 898 other state workers are expected to get their pink slips next month.