Nearly 90 percent of respondents to this week’s RBJ Daily Report Snap Poll say the state’s union workers should forgo 4 percent raises as Gov. David Paterson has asked.
Faced with a deficit of more than $9 billion and a late budget, Paterson asked union members
who work for the state to forgo the raises, which took effect April 1.
“We are in the midst of extraordinary fiscal and economic crisis (that) will require shared sacrifice from every individual and organization that relies upon state funding,” said Paterson, who noted that union workers’ pay has increased 9 percent over the last three years. He also noted that non-union state workers have gone without scheduled raises for the past two years.
The leaders of New York’s public employee unions rejected his call, saying Paterson has been unwilling to listen to union ideas for saving money—in particular, reducing the state’s hiring of private contractors.
Unions represent more than 100,000 state employees. The 4 percent raise adds an estimated $400 million to New York’s annual payroll costs.
The state budget deadline was March 31. Fifty-six percent of respondents blame the state Legislature for the missed deadline. Three percent say Paterson is responsible, while some 41 percent say the governor and Legislature are equally responsible.
Roughly 1,225 readers participated in this week’s poll, which was conducted April 5 and 6.
In your view, should New York’s unionized state employees agree to forgo this year’s 4 percent pay raise?
Who is most responsible for the failure again to pass a state budget by the March 31 deadline?
State Legislature: 56%
Gov. David Paterson: 3%
Both are equally responsible: 41%
Here are some readers’ comments:
Sometimes you need to take a small step back, even if you don’t like it. Be glad to have a job and quit focusing on more, more, more.
There are three different things going on here: No, the unionized state employees have a contract and they should not have to settle for less than the contract. Yes, Gov. Paterson is merely throwing stuff against the wall, hoping that something—anything—sticks. Finally, yes. The unionized state employees are paid too much to begin with. Let’s start by throwing all the bums out: the governor, the Legislature and the overpaid unionized employees!
Of course, everyone’s first reaction is to blame the workers and their salaries, but they negotiated and agreed to their pay scales. Why make them the scapegoats? Why should they give up their (modest) income? Most likely, they’re spending the majority of their wages right here in the state. It’s the people who agreed to give them the raises who should be held accountable! As a business owner, if my business is fiscally unstable, I’m willing to sacrifice along with others. Has anyone in state government agreed to a significant pay cut—or better yet, voluntarily resigned? I doubt it.
—Lou Calarese, president, Applied Audio & Theatre Supply
I think the answer is yes, but there are three solutions with significantly more impact: 1. Reduce state employee head count by at least 25 percent. 2. Eliminate pension plans and convert to 401(k) offerings. 3. Bring state wages back in line with the private sector for comparable trades and positions. Why should the taxpayers pay more for labor than the private sector?
Union leadership has proved it is focused on sucking as much out the state’s economy as possible and not on working toward growing our economic pie. The union stranglehold must be broken and the Legislature’s inane rules fixed if we are ever to become a vibrant economic powerhouse again.
It’s almost demeaning to even ask the question. Of course they should forgo the raise. I would remind them that very few rank-and-file American workers have seen a raise in either of the last two years, 17 percent of them have seen a decrease in pay (those reduced to part-time status), and 10 percent have seen a 100 percent decrease in pay—the unemployed. Add those facts to our state record as the most fiscally mismanaged state in the union, and the answer to the question is a no-brainer.
This is the worst example of representative government ever assembled in the history of “self-governance” and exactly what the dumbest/laziest/least-informed electorate in this galaxy deserves. How can we demand a quality performance from our leadership when we spend so little time and effort making sure we elect quality people? As a people, we spend more time selecting a coffee from the coffeeshop drive-through menu than understanding whom we elect and what they are actually supposed to do. If they stink—and they do—it’s our fault.
Our town employees and elected officials as well as a new union with whom we were negotiating agreed to forgo raises for 2010. In order to be part of the team, another union that had an existing contract agreed to forgo a raise the year after its contract expires. I believe that government should be part of the solution and not add to the existing problem.
—Gay H. Lenhard, town of Ogden supervisor
The state, like a household, cannot spend more than it takes in without creating the situation in which we find ourselves. This current financial mess will require a solution larger than has been tackled before, but simple in concept: lower taxes, less waste and greater responsibility required of anyone receiving funds from the state.
I have not received a pay raise since 2007 and am not getting one this year. I am grateful I have a job and like what I do. I think we all need to do our part to turn the economy around. Many companies have frozen pay raises. Just because they are state union employees should not make a difference.
I’m voting “yes” even though my wife is a unionized state employee. The state employee unions are out of control and our elected whores—I mean representatives—need to stand up to the thugs who control the unions, their lobbyists and PACs and reject their campaign contributions.
—Lester Wilson, North Syracuse
Credit Paterson for asking the question. Where are the legislators? Why not cut all the new state jobs that have been filled since 2008?
If the average wage for a government employee has indeed surpassed that of a private company employee AND the government employee’s fringe benefits also far surpass the average private company employees AND we in the private sector are paying for this salary increase, as well as their health care and everything else. Why should we exacerbate the problem by taking more and more money from the golden goose. Soon the goose will be no more. No pay raise, thank you.
—Don Eaton, Fairport
My grandfather had to carry a blackjack for protection against management thugs when he was in the union. It’s about time the state union workers showed they cared for their fellow New York workers as much as my grandfather sacrificed for them.
—Bill Lanigan, Chamberlin Rubber
Why should public-sector employees be exempt? Not only has the average private sector worker not had a raise in one to two years, many have actually lost income or worse, their jobs. If the unions want to play stupid games, perhaps we should get them to provide a list of which members can be fired in order to recoup the $400 million. Don’t get me wrong—I’m not pitting private against public sector—I’m looking at the average New Yorker – and everyone has to share the pain if the state is to rise again.
—Richard Stevenson, co-founder and CEO, CobbleSoft International Ltd.
ABSOLUTELY! When a private company gets in financial troubles the first thing they stop is pay raises for employees, then there are pay cuts, and then layoffs. If it’s really bad the executives might even take a pay cut or not get any bonus. So what should be different for state employees or local municipal employees (teachers, admins., etc.) Just because there is a union in place should not allow them to hold up a troubled company and force them, into a worse position. NYS is going broke. The Legislature and the locals are responsible. The first thing that happens when there is a budget cut is that all those who feel they’re entitled start crying because they are not going to get as much as they wanted. Well guess what? There is a huge financial problem in the state that is driving people away. You’ll have to get along with less for awhile. By the way, let’s take some real cuts at the overhead, salaries and benefits of all state employees.
Public employees negotiated this pay raise in good faith. For the state to renege on that negotiated contract is unethical. In addition, public employees chose to be employed by the government—forgoing the potential profit to be made in the private sector for the security that comes with civil service. If we remove that security, we remove what little incentive remains to choose the public sector. We cannot afford that. Perhaps the next time contracts are up, we should negotiate in a contingency for hard economic times, but to do this after the fact is not acceptable.
—Matthew D. Wilson
The legislature is not a friend of the taxpayer. It has been almost 15 years since the New York State budget actually decreased. The longer the budget is not passed; the better. If the state employees don’t forgo the 4 percent pay increase, there should be immediate massive layoffs and furloughs. Use the private sector to make up for any major deficiencies in services. The tax payer will come out ahead because the cost of a public employee far exceeds a comparable job in the private sector due to the excessive pension, health care, vacation, and other benefits.
—John Rynne, president, Rynne, Murphy & Associates, Inc.
I know it goes against their contracts, but there should be some pain for workers when their employer is close to bankruptcy. The workers, and even the retirees at Kodak and Xerox, have suffered with the decline of their employers. The state employee unions are very powerful. Let’s see if they can be very fair as well. But as my mother used to say, "When pigs fly."
—Clifford Jacobson, WebHomeUSA.com
The 4 percent/0 percent options are too stark. You should have provided 0 percent to 4 percent options.
—Mike Bleeg, Strategic Results
State employee wages should be frozen for however many years it takes for their salaries to be comparable with the private sector.
The unions have shown once again that they have no interest in improving New York. They only want to line the pockets of their selfish members. The state Legislature is hopeless. The only solution is to start over by throwing out all of the incumbents.
New York State needs to become more fiscally responsible to the taxpayers. Instead of constantly giving away taxpayer’s money and raising more taxes, how about some spending and service cuts? Twenty percent of New Yorkers are on Medicaid. Let’s see some belt tightening and perhaps the jobs will return to New York.
—Stephen Kates, M.D.
I think our legislators should also forgo any raises and not get paid until the budget is passed. No retroactive pay back!
—Ed Schlueter, president, Medgraph, Inc.
This state becomes more dysfunctional every day.
All expenditures must be reduced.
—Stephen Schantz, Schantz Homes Inc.
1. When for-profit companies fall on hard times, they ask their employees to make sacrifices for the good of the company. With massive deficits, the state should be able to ask the same of its employees. Although it may be the beginning of a slippery slope. 2. The state Legislature has been failing to pass a state budget since long before Paterson became governor.
Recognizing a "deal is a deal" and contracts are to make sure the "deal" sticks, there are ALWAYS mitigating circumstances that preclude the intent of the contract. EVERYBODY should be contributing to the turnaround of this sour economy. Regarding failure to come to grips with the state budget, my view is the blame is squarely on the legislature. The governor is getting a bad rap!
Sorry union members, why should you be any different than non-union people in the private sector? We work at least as hard as you do, and a great many of us have not had any annual (or merit) pay raises in several years. It is tougher and tougher for all of us to pay our bills and try to keep up with the rising cost of everything—we all face the same economic reality.
This request—and it is one, given the presence of contracts negotiated in good faith during better economic times—is not being made out of spite. It is an unfortunate reflection of current economic realities. We see the same scenario in virtually every local school district. So the employees and management need to make a decision—make moderate cuts in labor costs (i.e. forgo a pay raise and look at other benefit reductions) or be forced to use the blunt instrument of layoffs….or some combination of the two. Cost reductions need to be shared proportionally—non-union employees and senior administration need to look to themselves as well as “staff” for reductions. Other efficiencies should also be pursued…this situation should not be shouldered merely on the backs of the unionized employees. The (privately employed) citizens of New York are simply looking for the State employees to share the pain the same way that those in private industry have been doing for one to two years now. We are all in this together.
—Jim Baker, Foundation Design, P.C.
Many in the private sector have had to give up raises and even take pay cuts during this recession. Yet New York State spending went up 9 percent. Unbelievable! I have heard the state workers argue that they don’t get bonuses in the good times so they should not take cuts in the bad times. Tell you what, come up with an incentive system that rewards state employees for money saving ideas instead of the old "use it or lose it" mentality and I will listen. Until then, cut the raises and cut all state jobs by 10 percent. Believe me, the citizens of New York will never even notice it! (Except in their tax bill.)
The economy is in shambles, the average person is happy to keep their job (never mind a pay raise), and the cost of living is neutral (cite: Social Security Administration, http://www.ssa.gov/OACT/COLA/latestCOLA.html). Demanding their raise under these conditions is the sort of choice that breeds animosity toward unions, which is not a good idea after being implicated in the failures of GM and Chrysler. There are plenty of non-union companies that take advantage of their workers, but many still don’t want unions because of the bad rap they’ve received, much of which is their own doing by pushing things too far. In the name of fairness to all, and in union’s long-term self interests, union state workers should forgo (or at least accept a much smaller) raise this year.
—Perette Barella, Devious Fish
Although New York’s civil service unions are highly self serving and a major reason for the fiscal mess and inefficient government in this state, they should be given their pay raises. The solution of course is to permanently and immediately terminate 4 percent of the union workforce or whatever number is necessary to bring the wage and benefit numbers down to bring the budget back into balance.
Well, I guess we see that the tail is still wagging the dog. It’s so ironic that the state is the only employer I can think of that has NO CONTROL over the compensation of its workers. The governor and state legislature have to just say "No" and, in fact, start trimming some jobs and actually reduce the compensation packages of state workers. We in private business have been forced to accept these reductions for the last five years. Retirement at outrageous percentages of former salaries along with lifetime health insurance (paid for) just is so unreal that it boggles the mind. PLEASE, find the courage.
The greed and selfish behavior of our elected, public officials is at an all time high. Thus, seeing the public state workers exhibiting these same behaviors is no surprise. It is troubling to see the great state of New York and the majority of people languishing due to the ignorance of our elected officials and now our very own public employees!
—Rick Ross, College Financing Group
Fire them all and start over, non-union. Rehire the ones with a good attitude. Like Ronald Reagan and the air-traffic controllers.
—Eugene Henn, Better Power, Inc.
Since inflation was zero over the last 12 months, and most Americans did not get a raise, if they are fortunate to still be employed, I think it is more than reasonable for ALL state workers, unionized or not, to forgo this year’s raise. In fact, since it is the legislature and the governor and his office that is the reason for the deficit, there should be pay cuts for those folks. But, this being New York, that will never happen, we will just borrow more money, further exacerbating the situation.
Everyone is equally responsible for this budget fiasco. When our elected leaders actually decide to serve the state instead of themselves, then maybe we can get back to good government. We need term limits for our officials. State government is not a lifetime appointment!
I am a professional, unionized state employee willing to make a short-term sacrifice to help our once great state be great again. NYS and the USA are slowly climbing out of this recession; we all need to be wiser from this ordeal. Thanks for asking.
—John Osowski, State University of New York
David Paterson has been vilified for calling for fiscal responsibility. I support the guy even though I am politically at the opposite end of the spectrum.
Most private companies are not giving raises this year. They are still trimming their payroll with layoffs. If they are fortunate enough to afford giving their employees a pay raise, it is usually around 2 percent. The state needs to get with the program and start being fiscally responsible.
—Melissa Jock, New York State over-taxed citizen
I am sure that many employees in the private sector would be glad to only have taken a 4 percent cut in pay over the last couple of years. Let’s not forget the public unions have also received on average over 3 percent raises each year for the last three years.
—Peter E. Pape
Everyone decries cuts in their own pay and pensions, yet want to inflict them on public employees. Cutting pay for public employees will NOT help the economic situation in New York. Public employees buy goods, pay mortgages, and pay taxes. Unlike private employees, public employees actually subsidize their own pay! Our state and national economy is dependent on consumer spending. The ripple effect of pay cuts will contribute to the devastation of the economy of New York as public employees are forced to reduce their spending at local stores, businesses, and banks. Pay increases mean higher taxes and more income for the state. Hurting public employees does not help anyone else!
—Lola Kelly, East Rochester Teachers’ Association
Unionized NYS workers enjoy much better benefits than available in much of the private sector. They need to understand shared sacrifice.
—Kathie Cahill, Net Sales
Life changes and the financial life of New York State have changed a lot since this contract was negotiated. "Rolling back the excess" includes unions. There’s no other way to return to solvency.
—Pam Klainer, Klainer Consulting Group LLC
I think it’s unfair to place blame on Gov. Paterson. I believe he approached the state’s huge fiscal problems with a level head, and was victimized by dysfunctional politics. The unions should forgo their raises; they are public workers, and should act in the best interest of the taxpayers.
—Ana Liss, former Rochester resident, current MPA candidate, University of Pennsylvania
No, they should not. They won’t anyway. Why should they? And if they do, they’ll demand something in return and get it like the ridiculous pension reform last year in exchange for no layoff promise. The governor should declare a state of emergency and use his powers to make such changes as are required to solve the problem.
—Norbert Rappl, Berginn Associates
Public service jobs in the old days paid less than private-sector jobs but offered security and benefits. The trade off not only disappeared, but, the number and compensation in the public-sector employment has grown. It’s time to adjust. Freeze wages! Then let’s take a look at productivity investments to reduce the headcount. I believe in a day’s work for a day’s pay, but the yard stick between public- and private-sector job content is totally out of whack. Also, we have too much staff in state government. The legislature has failed us as have the public sector unions who are really not for the public good, only to preserve their lofty privileges.
—Dennis Kiriazides, Xerox Corp., retired
We need to change the NYS defined pension plan to a 401(k) similar to the private sector.
—Dave Rusin, American Fiber Systems, Inc.
We are living in different times and need all to help. We have not had raises for more than two years at my company and most likely be able to give them this year because of more and more taxes and fees from state and federal government.
—Terry Palis, Corporate Communications, Inc.
It’s about time for everyone to begin tightening their belts. Nobody should have a guaranteed pay raise. They should all be based on performance. It’s OK for New York State to be an "at-will" employer, as long as you’re not a member of a union. Then, you get guaranteed this and guaranteed that with almost no regard to your performance. If our state government wants us to believe that it is taking our financial situation seriously, then make the hard decision and stop ALL state expansion and pay increases. If the union workers don’t like it, breach the contract, dismiss all the employees and renegotiate a more reasonable contract.
—James Tuchnowski, Pyramid Brokerage
Further, state workers should be subject to the same cost-cutting measures employed by the private sector, i.e. layoffs, furloughs, reduced work hours, etc. Let’s start cutting people whose employment isn’t "necessary," and certainly shouldn’t be guaranteed, to the betterment of our society and start saving our educators and police/fire/EMT types for whom we depend upon.
The responsibility for failure to pass state budget is really with the people who put them in office in the first place.
We are all in this together. Private-sector wages and benefits have been mostly stagnant or shrinking for the last several years in order to keep their employers solvent. What is good for the goose is good for the gander. New York public-sector employees have eclipsed their counterparts in the private when it comes to overall wages and benefit packages. It will be very interesting to see how appreciative the public sector is for what they currently have.
—George Thomas, Ogden
State workers need to forgo increases, forget future increases, forfeit lucrative yet costly benefits and many should foray into the private sector after their positions are eliminated.
—Peter Short, J.J. Short Associates, Inc., Macedon
Unions protected wages and benefits no longer allow companies or government entities to remain competitive and cost effective, and haven’t been for 25 years. Productivity of union protected jobs vs. non-union jobs is just pitiful. We’ve let the unions drive our auto industry into the dirt—paving the way for the Toyotas, Hondas and other auto companies to take over. We’ve let the unions destroy our telecommunications industry—paving the way for foreign companies to take over our industry. We’ve let unions drive our manufacturing industries into the dirt. We’ve let them drive up health care costs until they are the number one expense for every American. And now we want to let unions drive up the cost of living in our state until we all have to leave. I say it’s time to say "ENOUGH" to the unions. Plenty of unemployed folks out there. Let them strike, fire them for not showing up and hire in some of the folks that will eagerly take their jobs—and probably perform them better because they know there will be accountability and consequences if they mess up. Or let the unions come to the table with real solutions in their hands—not ones that put money in union leader’s pockets and more people in union protected jobs and increase benefits for already overgenerous union workers. Unions’ entire purpose is to protect jobs that companies or government entities no longer need. We already have strong employee protection laws to prevent abuse. The unions are a parasite on the body republic—an anachronism that were necessary in their day and totally unnecessary now.
We can no longer support the level of government that we have been accustomed to. Six state employees per 100 citizens is simply too many heads. We need to reduce the size of government and its spending. Also, raises are not entitlements. The private sector has reduced head cut, cut wages and reduced benefits in order to “right size” to the level of business activity. Government must do the same.
—Randy White, J.N. White Designs
In my opinion, it is our dysfunctional state Legislature that deserves a huge pay cut. Hard-working New Yorkers are being taxed to death while they play games in Albany. Shame on them.
Although do not begrudge the individual union worker, I find fault with the union bosses and with the politicians. The system that we have in place is a "perpetual motion machine" with a curtain. The politicians get money from the unions and in return the unions are treated at a different level than the rest of regular labor, and behind the curtain, is the taxpayer fueling the system/benefits. The regular folks are taking a hit and it doesn’t seem that those in power (union or politician) are willing to make the cuts that will have to happen.
—Nigel Heaton, Marni Spring Corp.
All unionized employees should get the maximum raises. Then all private-sector companies (who pay their salaries) could be more discouraged from doing business in New York. The state government responsible for this mess is blatantly corrupt. The voters who keep electing these people are economically illiterate.
—Todd Black, Black’s Hardware
This is not government—it’s a disgrace.
Unionization of the state workers continues to be counterproductive and the spineless state leadership continues to fail to find a balance between worker needs and taxpayer needs. A 4 percent increase is well beyond what the non-unionized workers throughout New York State will see this year, next year and for some time to come. At a minimum, increases should be "indexed" to the changes in state income much like companies using income/profits to determine employee increases.
There are sooooo many things wrong with the way our state is run, that to pick on the union workers to save money only adds to the list of sheer stupidity our politicians display every day. I was taught never to complain if you don’t have a solution. Here it is in beautiful simplicity, end welfare! Why punish the working person who pays taxes on their income? If you pay them more, they pay more taxes! On the other hand, cut welfare and the dregs of society may actually move! Maybe to California. Cutting welfare for 100 people gives a 4 percent raise to how many workers? This is very simple math. Even a politician that is good at fund raising could do it! I say give the raise and eliminate that much welfare. Then, drop New York State property tax by 30 percent and eliminate that much welfare. Then, eliminate the NYS gasoline tax and eliminate that much welfare. How about the soda tax? Yep, eliminate that much welfare, too. When we run out of welfare to end, we could start on Albany and the bloated government there! Newfound money! If we paid on merit, think of the tax refunds you would get every year. But I digress, give out the raise and find the money by being tight fiscal managers in areas of waste.
The contract was negotiated and agreed on by both sides. How would your business react if your client asked you to reduce a valid contract because they messed up their business? Would you trust them? How about the executives who received huge rewards for laying up thousands of employees and sending them to the state coffers? Did you ask them to put their excessive bonuses into the state budget? At least, the workers will need to turn around and spend the money and help the economy recover. Each year, the state and municipalities are giving out huge amounts of tax reductions to businesses and private people. Did anyone ask to take these away? Isn’t it a cheap shot to focus on the unions and their contract while the rest feasts? In my opinion, the state Legislature has the responsibility for the budget. They have been sitting on their duff for too long. The leadership has total control of the submission of the budget on both sides of the house and is playing its old games. They are sitting pretty with all the public options on all levels, and it seems they don’t have to care about nothing.
—Ingo H. Leubner, Crystallization Consulting
When the politicians say "We all have to tighten our belts," why are state workers exempt? If they don’t want to forgo the raise, we should lay off 4 percent. Better yet, permanently cut 5 percent of the programs. That way we get rid of employees, managers and associated expenses. That’s what we have to do in the wealth-generating part of the economy.
—Dennis Ditch, Delta Square, Inc.
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