New York's second largest state employee union on Thursday agreed to a contract that includes no raises for three years and other concessions demanded by Gov. Andrew Cuomo, avoiding nearly 3,500 layoffs.
More than 70 percent of the Public Employees Federation rank-and-file voted to approve the tentative contract. The approval came just a month after a similar tentative contract was rejected by the rank-and-file.
"Truly, cooler heads prevailed," Cuomo said. "The contracts weren't that different .. I think it was the tonality. It was the decibel level."
Cuomo said union members in New York were riled by what they saw as attacks nationwide on unions, such as the conflict in Wisconsin between public workers and Republican Gov. Scott Walker, who proposed taking away nearly all their collective bargaining rights.
PEF's deal calls for no raises through 2013, followed by a 2 percent increase in 2014.
Union members will also pay more for health insurance but could use vacation time to offset that added cost. Workers will be reimbursed for nine unpaid furlough days at the end of the contract.
The decision heads off 3,496 job cuts ordered by Cuomo to contend with historic deficits.
A key difference in this deal is that the Public Employees Federation will be able to negotiate a new contract in four years, when fiscal times may be better. That will be a year earlier than other unions.
"Although this was a difficult decision for our members, it demonstrates they are willing to do their part to put New York state on a stable financial footing, as all New Yorkers should, and are helping to resolve a fiscal crisis for which they were not responsible," PEF President Ken Brynien said.
Cuomo, a Democrat, said the deal was also helped by the intervention of two powerful labor forces: the SEIU 1199 union and American Federation of Teachers President Randy Weingarten, who long led unionized teachers in New York.
The state is still engaged in negotiations with the union representing state prison employees and the United University Professions union, which represents mostly State University of New York workers.
Cuomo has already won concessions from other public worker unions including wage freezes, unpaid furloughs and higher health care contributions to save the state $450 million this year and avoid 9,800 layoffs.
The contracts, including the one with the Civil Service Employees Association union, are similar to the provisions in the PEF contract.