Dennis Quirk doesn’t like it, but he thinks upcoming contract talks with the state court system could result in a wage freeze for his Court Officers and other union employees. But he won’t accept furloughs, which were part of the deal ratified by the largest state-employee union to avert thousands of layoffs, or increased health costs. “Over my dead body,” he said in a recent interview.
Mr. Quirk, president of the New York State Court Officers Association for more than 30 years, said he is not alone in feeling this way. He is part of a bargaining coalition with several other unions among the 12 that represent the court system’s 15,000 non-judicial employees, and he said the unions in his group are united on this.
‘Not Going to Like It’
“We understand the pay freeze—we know we might have to live with it—but we’re not going to like it, we’re not going to agree to it,” he said. “There’s no way, over my dead body, we’re agreeing to furloughs.” He said the unions would not accept increased health premiums either.
Faced with a historically large cut in its budget, the court system laid off 412 employees, both union and nonunion, in the spring. Mr. Quirk avoided the layoff of any Court Officers by negotiating a deal with the state under which it used money from a welfare fund to pay the salaries of 29 officers threatened with layoffs. “We already had our layoffs,” he said.
A spokesman for the Unified Court System, David Bookstaver, said he could not comment on negotiations, which have just begun.
Mr. Quirk said he was not happy with the precedent set by the recently-ratified Civil Service Employees Association contract, which contains a three-year pay freeze, nine furlough days and increases in health-care premiums of up to 60 percent.
‘Why Are We Paying the Price?’
“Why did CSEA go to a five-year contract?” he asked. “Why would you go to five years if you don’t know what the future holds?” CSEA said the Cuomo administration originally sought a six-year contract.
Further, Mr. Quirk asked, “Why are public employees paying the price of the economic collapse? They didn’t cause the problems.”
While pushing public employees for unprecedented contract concessions and cutting deeply into Medicaid and school funding, Governor Cuomo has opposed extending the “millionaires tax,” an income-tax surcharge on individuals earning more than $200,000 and families earning more than $300,000.
The surcharge is set to expire at the end of the year, and Mr. Cuomo has refused even to consider a proposal by Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver to keep it with a modification that would apply it only to incomes of $1 million and above.
Mr. Quirk said he had some sympathy for a higher-paid group in the courthouses—state judges. They have gone without a raise since 1999, and a commission on judicial salaries recommended they get an increase, phased in over three years, to $174,000. When it takes full effect in 2014, it’ll be a 27-percent increase, covering a period when the cost of living has increased more than 40 percent. He thinks that’s too low.
“It’s an absolute disgrace,” he said of the recommendation.