WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. -- Westchester’s Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA) President Karen Pecora said County Executive Robert Astorino was using “a union busting tactic” when he claimed unions forced 210 layoffs upon county employees while unveiling his proposed $1.689 billion budget Tuesday.
“We have supplied the county with numerous ideas to save money -- millions of dollars -- and they fall on deaf ears. They want to know nothing but layoffs. That’s all they want to know,” said Pecora, who represents approximately 3,300 county employees.
Astorino, a Republican, said his budget calls for 210 layoffs and eliminating 157 additional positions because he “didn’t get any help from the unions” and was fulfilling his pledge not to raise property taxes.
“The question of why we had layoffs, I think that’s better asked to the unions,” said Astorino. “We’ve been asking them publicly and privately to come forward. And some of them have been kicking and screaming just to get to the bargaining table, let alone put forth any proposals. I think if you put some truth serum in their arms, they will all agree that the time has come that they start paying for some of their healthcare costs. That’s just the world we live in.”
The County Executive’s administration intends to reduce the workforce by 7.5 percent with layoffs across every department, including 71 in the Department of Social Services and 31 in the Department of Public Works. Astorino’s team estimates the layoffs will save $14 million as it bridges a $114 million funding gap.
Astorino has said the State Department of Labor statistics indicate the average salary of a county worker is $71,324 and may rise to $110,000 when fringe benefits are included, while the average salary of a private sector employee working in Westchester is $62,900. The County Executive argues that Westchester cannot afford the approximately $100 million annual price tag attached to providing its unionized workers with free healthcare.
Pecora said she wouldn’t discuss negotiated items, such as healthcare contributions, with the media but that she thought Astorino’s numbers “are inflated.”
“He uses the average salary of the county employee as $71, 000 and the average salary for a CSEA member is around $62, 000,” said Pecora. “Forty-nine percent of CSEA are at or under $62,000. So of course when he includes all of the county employees together, yes, it’s going to inflate the average salary.”
Ned McCormack, who handles press for Astorino’s office, said the County Executive chose numbers that reflect the average county worker’s income.
“The numbers are what they are. Those people who are in the private sector who are making $62,900, they’re not getting free healthcare,” McCormack said of the average private sector worker’s salary in Westchester. “If you were to take that same number and add a family plan benefit for our guys, which they pay nothing to, it’s about $20,000. So right there you have a big jump.”
Astorino also has an unrealistic sense of how long negotiations will take, according to Pecora.
“I don’t know what he expected. Negotiations, as a rule for us, take a long time. In the last almost 20 years, we have not had a contract ratified before it expired. It usually takes a year and a half, probably two years,” said Pecora, who presides over Westchester’s largest union. “We’ve met with him in good faith. We’re negotiating. We’re not refusing anything. Everything is a negotiated item.”
McCormack disagreed with Pecora’s assessment, saying the county tried to start negotiations in April and the CSEA shunned talks until the end of August because the Triborough Amendment guarantees unionized workers that negotiated agreements will be upheld after a contract expires until a new contract is reached.
“They’ve been actually extremely slow in coming to the bargaining table,” said McCormack. “CSEA in particular for the last two years has received an 8 percent increase and they’re receiving free health care. So there’s very little incentive for them to come to the table.”
Astorino resorted to layoffs because a law requires him to release a balanced budget by Nov. 15. regardless of union contract progress, according to McCormack. However, Astorino has said his team was “always open to listening” as the budget process moves forward.
The Westchester budget must be finalized by Dec. 27.
What are your thoughts on Astorino's proposal to decrease the workforce by 7.5 percent, including 210 layoffs? What union concessions, if any, do you think are fair? Join the conversation below.