ALBANY — To deal with billions of dollars in revenue loss amid the coronavirus pandemic, New York is deferring pay raises for about 80,000 state workers for at least for 90 days.
State officials Thursday confirmed that the 2 percent raises negotiated for thousands of employees set for mid-April would be postponed and reevaluated in 90 days, a move criticized by state union leaders who say many of those workers are putting their lives at risk on the front lines of the COVID-19 response.
“It’s inexcusable to require our workers to literally face death to ensure the state keeps running and then turn around and deny those very workers their much-deserved raise in this time of crisis,” said Mary E. Sullivan, president of the state Civil Service Employees Association.
Michael B. Powers, who heads the New York Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association, also criticized the administration.
“Today’s news is yet another slap in the face to the brave men and women in law enforcement and those on the front lines of keeping order in our state’s prison system and our mental health facilities," Powers said. "Our members are working day and night and are subject to some of the most dangerous conditions in the state. With hundreds of our members testing positive for COVID-19 and hundreds more quarantined, the risks are real."
New York’s fiscal leaders have estimated the state could lose up to $15 billion in annual revenue as a result of the pandemic, which has shuttered businesses and left millions out of work.
The postponement of raises is expected to save the state $50 million during the 90-day period and will impact about 80,000 employees, said Robert Mujica, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's budget director.
State Division of the Budget spokesman Freeman Klopott said the anticipated revenue loss and the lack of federal government assistance have left New York in financial uncertainty.
“The New York state workforce is dedicated, hardworking, and puts the public first everyday — no more so than in the midst of the ongoing public health crisis," Klopott said. "Given this uncertainty, we are delaying pay raises for state workers scheduled to go into effect this month by 90 days, at which point we will reassess the status of state finances and whether they can be implemented.”
Mujica asserted there is language in the labor contracts approved by the Legislature that allows the state to withhold the payments. Union leaders say the state has an obligation to honor the contract.
“It’s really disturbing to see the state not honor their commitments when our members are honoring their commitment to public service,” CSEA communications director Mark Kotzin said.
The labor unions represent many workers who are in health care or working in facilities such as mental health centers and prisons where the virus has reached.
"People are failing to recognize the value of our state workers during this crisis and what they are going through to keep providing public services throughout the state," Sullivan said. "We literally have workers sleeping in their workplaces to make sure essential services are delivered around the clock. They’re at the front lines keeping this epidemic from spreading further, caring for our most vulnerable and ill residents, helping people in our communities suffering from job losses, and keeping our state from wholesale economic and social collapse."
Assemblyman Billy Jones, D-Plattsburgh, pledged to work with the Cuomo administration to ensure employees receive the negotiated raises and noted how many of the workers have been on the front lines battling the pandemic.
“There is never a good time to stop pay raises, but especially now in this time, when we are depending on these employees, who have been working tirelessly and knowingly in harm’s way,” Jones said in a statement. “I will actively work to take steps to retroactively see these pay raises instituted and I call on the governor to give these workers the raise that they deserve.”
Sullivan also called on New York's congressional delegation and the White House "to act now to help New York survive the economic crisis this pandemic caused and make sure we have the ability to continue the vital public services New Yorkers rely on."
Union leaders say they recognize the fiscal stress the state is under and have encouraged members to reach out to federal delegation to urge for financial assistance, but employees deserve the raises negotiated. The deferment does not impact step increases, officials said.
"We understand the economic realities and hardships the state faces," said Kotzin, the CSEA spokesman. "At the same time, we recognize that people are putting their lives on the line to keep the state functioning shouldn’t be asked to sacrifice" promised wages as well.
E.J. McMahon, research director for the Empire Center for Public Policy, said freezing state employees’ wages can help avoid furloughs and layoffs.
The fiscally conservative think tank based in Albany had urged the state to do a wage freeze in mid-March as the economic picture for the Empire State continued to become more bleak.
“We’ve advocated for this for years in times of crises,” McMahon said. “If you don’t give pay hikes, then you can save more jobs because they are going to have to cut payroll.”
McMahon said the fiscal impact of the public health crisis to the state will be felt for years, and job cuts are likely. He noted the measure does not postpone any contract raises for public employees in local government, public authorities or 体彩app官方网站 districts, which the center estimates could cost $1.5 billion.
“The way (Cuomo) is doing it, moves him into uncharted territory and it seems pretty clear, whatever basis he thinks he’s using here only applies to state workers,” McMahon said. “The bigger, broader issue is going to be local government and 体彩app官方网站s.”
Budget officials said other avenues, including a freeze on new hires, are being considered to reduce costs.
Mujica said it's still unclear what New York's fiscal picture will look like in the coming weeks and months due to the pandemic's impact on the economy.
"We're trying to prioritize those resources right now to fund the health care crisis," Mujica said. "Between now and then, let's see if the federal government is going to step up and provide the state with more resources to deal with the revenue shortfall, and then we can deal with those commitments."