WHITE PLAINS, N.Y. (CBSNewYork) — Give back — or get out.
Public employee unions are being pushed to make concessions as local governments struggle to balance budgets. This is especially the case in Westchester County, where battle lines are being drawn, reports CBS 2’s Lou Young.
Pushed to the wall and feeling vilified, public employees are in a time of high anxiety — watching workers in the Midwest lose their right to bargain and feeling pressured here at home.
“Unions in general are being targeted as the enemy; everything is our fault and we are not the enemy. That’s what bothers me the most. We are not the enemy,” said Karen Pecora, the president of the Civil Service Employees Association.
Pecora heads Westchester’s biggest employee union and expects a fight this year from cost-cutting County Executive Rob Astorino in New York’s richest suburban county.
Astorino said he wants public employees to give ground on basic benefits.
“We can’t be at a point where we were at last year, where we had retirement incentives. That’s not going to happen this year, so either they help us out or there are going to be layoffs. At budget time, that are going to be unavoidable,” Astorino said.
Astorino already has a stack of open union contracts on his desk and will get two more at the end of this calendar year. The list includes county nurses and five different law enforcement unions.
Thus is a workforce that’s already lost 636 positions in the past year, some to sudden layoffs.
“They just came in and dropped the bomb on us. No union representative was there. No answers could be answered and it was just like ‘are you serious?’” laid off worker Juliette Austin said.
In his state of the county speech on Thursday night, Astorino lashed out at what he called “special interests,” which union officials said is code for their membership.
“Employees are coming in asking about it. They are worried. Some are getting sick behind it,” CSEA representative Junio Alvarado said.
The battles will likely be over pensions and healthcare. The frayed American safety net and the smoke may not clear until this time next year.
The county executive said rising health care costs are the primary force driving the need for union concessions.
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