Furloughs: They're not just for soldiers and prisoners! Starting next week, some 100,000 state workers could be required to take a one day, unpaid furlough from work. And as you can see from this photo of a massive protest outside the State Capitol yesterday, they are not happy about it.
Yesterday the Legislature voted to approve Paterson's emergency spending bill, which extends funding to keep the state government running. The furloughs, which the Legislature would have to renew on a weekly basis until a budget deal is reached, are expected to save $30 million a week, which is a drop in the bucket compared to the state's $9.2 billion deficit. Exempt from the furloughs are workers deemed "essential," such as state troopers, correction officers, nurses, and—of course—employees of state lawmakers.
While approving the emergency extender bill (and hence the furloughs), the Senate also unanimously approved a nonbinding resolution declaring the furloughs illegal. "This is a unilateral decision by the governor to force us to vote against the extender bill," Democratic Senator Neil Breslin said. "If we voted against that extender bill and it failed, everyone would be without health insurance. Motor vehicle departments would be closed down." Sheldon Silver, the Assembly speaker said, "We’re not stopping government," and expressed confidence that the courts will overturn the furloughs.
Outside the Capitol, where some 2,000 workers rallied yesterday on their lunch break, Danny Donahue, the president of the Civil Service Employees Association, stood next to a giant inflatable rat and applauded Paterson’s decision to drop his election campaign, telling reporters, "We know the governor is furloughed at the end of the year. If we could get rid of him now, we would. Some say the rat is a good symbol for our governor. I say that’s an insult to rodents." The unions are seeking a temporary restraining order in Federal District Court, calling it an unlawful breach of contract. Courts in other states have previously blocked furloughs.
In a statement, Paterson said, "I recognize that these furloughs represent a difficult sacrifice for many of the state’s public employees. That sacrifice is only necessary because their union leadership has rejected all other reasonable attempts at compromise." But union leaders say Paterson blew off their suggestions for cutting the budget, such as replacing independent contractors with unionized workers. Patricia Baker of the Public Employees Federation tells NY1, "He has not talked to us at all. All he’s done is talk to us through the media—at us, not to us."