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Thousands Rally Against Furloughs

By Karen DeWitt

http://stream.publicbroadcasting.net/production/mp3/wamc/local-wamc-901042.mp3

Albany, NY –

Around two thousand state workers used their lunch hour to protest Governor David Paterson's plan to include one day a week furloughs in the emergency spending authorization presented to the legislature.

Protesters erected a giant blow up balloon rat, and many held signs that said "Furlough This", with an unflattering photo of the governor with his fingers in his ears. In the speeches, more vitriol was directed against the Governor, including from Civil Service Employees Association President Danny Donohue.

"Somebody said the rat is a good symbol of the governor," said Donohue. "I say that's an insult to a rodent."

Union leaders say the state worker payroll accounts for only 8% of total budget, and they are being unfairly picked on. CSEA's Donohue says what amounts to a 20% pay cut for 300,000 New York workers will hurt the economy.

"It's a lose-lose situation," said Donohue, who said in addition, the public would suffer as government services are reduced.

Paterson is already holding back state workers' scheduled 4% pay raises, which were due in April, saying he can't afford to give them out until the legislature agrees to close a $9.2 billion dollar deficit, and settles on a new state budget, now over 40 days late.

The legislature asked their legal experts to look at whether the furlough language could be separated out of the emergency spending bills. That way, legislators could vote to keep government running, but reject the furlough proposal. But the lawyers failed to come up with a way out. Lawmakers, who believe the furloughs are illegal, were in the end forced to vote for them, or shut the government down, something Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver refuses to do.

"We're not stopping government," Silver said.

In the Senate, Albany Democrat, Senator Neil Breslin, who has many state workers in his district, offered a resolution declaring the furloughs illegal, and explained why lawmakers could not simply reject the bills and shut government down. He said it would create "chaos", ending vital services like the Department of Motor Vehicles and construction projects, stopping unemployment checks and halting health insurance for workers.

"Someone who might need an operation the next day would have to pay for it themselves," said Breslin.

The resolution was approved on a voice vote.

Speaker Silver spoke for the majority of legislators when he predicted that the courts will overturn the furlough provision.

"I think it interferes with the collective bargaining agreement under federal and state law," said Silver.

Union leaders planned to seek immediate court action, and are asking for a Temporary Restraining Order against the one day a week lay offs.