REPOST ARTICLE SOURCE:
ALBANY — About 1,200 county workers furloughed for a week in 2009 amid a ballooning budget gap will get the days back as paid time off under a settlement between unions and County Executive Dan McCoy, McCoy’s office said Thursday.
The agreement could save taxpayers as much as $1.4 million over the alternative were the unions to prevail in allegations to state labor regulators that the forced time off was improperly imposed, McCoy said.
A copy of the settlement was not immediately available, but one union leader said it includes a provision that the county could not try to impose furloughs without negotiation again.
“Going forward, we’ll negotiate with them,” McCoy, a Democrat who took office last year, said of the unions. “It’s just a way to say ‘thank you’ to the workers. And it’s the right thing to do. It’s been a point of contention since ’09.”
Former County Executive Michael Breslin’s administration imposed the furloughs, which took place over five Fridays between August and December 2009, in a bid to help close a $20.5 million budget gap as the ripple effects of the national recession hit local governments. Two of the furlough days were the day after Thanksgiving and Christmas Eve.
The move was immediately controversial and resisted by the county’s employee unions, with the Civil Service Employees Association and Public Employees Federation filing an improper practice charge with state Public Employment Relations Board.
Breslin’s administration argued it could unilaterally impose the furloughs because they were akin to layoffs.
Under the agreement, each worker will receive one hour of paid time off for each furlough hour. The time must be used by the end of 2014 and cannot be paid as cash during any buyout or early retirement incentive, McCoy said.
The terms of the pact do not apply to workers who have already left county employment.
Kathy Garrison, CSEA’s Capital Region president, said she hopes the settlement sets the tone for a positive relationship between McCoy and the union’s six bargaining units in the county, all of which are working under expired contracts.
“I think it’s a message that we’re willing to cooperate and resolve issues that confront our members and the workers,” said Garrison, adding that language precluding future furloughs without union input was also significant. “It included a provision that they could not again unilaterally impose furloughs against county employees.”
CSEA represents workers in the social services, health, mental health, public works, general services and sheriff’s departments.
PEF, which represents about 80 probation officers, said it believes the unions would have won had an arbitrator ruled on the case but hailed the compromise for benefitting both sides and avoiding the costs of continued litigation.
“We believe we had a strong case that the furloughs violated the Taylor Law, but we believe the settlement we reached with the county was in the best interest of our members … and relieves both parties of the burden of further litigation and delay,” PEF spokeswoman Jane Briggs said in a statement.
Breslin included himself and his staff in the furlough, but many county employees who were deemed essential — like nursing home staff — or who worked for independently elected officials like the county comptroller, district attorney, sheriff and County Legislature were not affected. County Clerk Thomas Clingan shut his office 30 minutes earlier than usual in July and August of that year to achieve the savings.
McCoy, who was member of the County Legislature at the time, said he hopes his efforts to improve county finances make future furlough talks unneccessary.
“We won’t hopefully ever have to look at doing something like this again,” he said.