Unions, NY Assembly push to end ‘temporary’ hires

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ALBANY, N.Y. (AP) — Public worker unions and New York’s Assembly are angling to curb the hiring of temporary workers and consultants instead of permanent state employees who Gov. David Paterson says saves taxpayers money.

The conflict, with serious implications in the 2010-11 budget, surfaced Thursday. It means the Democratic governor faces another battle with powerful unions and the Legislature just as he appeared to end one that began in December.

Paterson effectively ended his December dispute with the New York State United Teachers union and allied school interests when he announced that he will release $750 million in aid to schools and other services that he delayed in December to keep the state from running out of money.

Paterson’s announcement that the aid would be released on Friday, the result in part of revenue received in January, would effectively end a lawsuit brought by teachers’ unions and school officials who contended Paterson’s delay was a cut and wouldn’t be restored.

On Thursday, the Public Employees Federation released its report, saying the state could save $656 million over three years by hiring permanent, union workers instead of thousands of temporary consultants.

The Civil Service Employees Association accused the Paterson administration of spending $62 million to hire temporary workers in place of permanent state employees, wasting tax dollars and exploiting nonunion workers.

“This out-of-control spending, and improper and sloppy filing is costing the state millions,” PEF President Kenneth Brynien said of the administration’s hiring of consultants, although PEF has been working with Paterson on the issue.

“CSEA’s primary concern is increasing the state work force so they can collect more in union dues, even if that is to the detriment of effective and efficient government,” Paterson spokesman Morgan Hook said. He noted that Paterson recently agreed to stop hiring temporary workers under a moratorium.

“This is another example of special interests that intimidate, badger and push when they don’t get their way, even when they know the cupboard is bare and the policy is bad,” Hook said.

“If PEF is so concerned about saving taxpayer money, then I would ask them to offer up their 4-percent salary increases,” Paterson chief of staff Lawrence Schwartz said.

He referred to Paterson’s request last year for union employees to delay their raises to help the state stay solvent. Paterson made management employees forego their raises and Schwartz said that’s expected again in Paterson’s proposed 2010-11 budget scheduled to be presented to the Legislature on Tuesday.

Schwartz said PEF fails to recognize that consultants are often hired because of a temporary need for specific expertise not found in the permanent work force.

Paterson’s director of state operations, Valerie Grey, added that the PEF’s claim of being concerned for taxpayers is “disingenuous.” She noted that PEF filed a grievance recently accusing the administration of an unfair labor practice when bosses required employees to use a state Web site to determine if official travel would be cheaper by rental car or by using an employee’s car and charging for mileage driven.

The Assembly plans hearings that could lead to legislation curbing the hiring of temporary workers, pitting the Democratic governor against perhaps his last powerful ally, Democratic Speaker Sheldon Silver.

“This practice not only contradicts the executive mandate of a hard hiring freeze, it also appears to allow state agencies to circumvent the Division of Budget approval process for new hires,” Silver said. “Terminating temporary positions statewide would help close the budget gap, improve government transparency and help re-establish New Yorkers’ confidence in their government.”