At its core, Unshackle Upstate is about finding solutions. Identify what the short-term needs are and back them up with sustainable, long-term reform. As the saying goes, “if you are not part of the solution, you are part of the problem.”  Through its policy agenda, Unshackle Upstate has supported wage freezes and payroll lags as they offer immediate, yet temporary remedies to our ongoing fiscal woes. UU has also offered long-term solutions, such as advocating for increased contributions to health and retirement accounts and reform of the Taylor Law.  These solutions could provide  long-term stability in the way that wages and benefits are negotiated and put New York on the road to recovery.

In many states, we are seeing these ideas put into action.  For example, in Connecticut, state workers have agreed to a one-year wage freeze, seven unpaid furlough days and higher employee health insurance contributions. New Jersey civil service workers have agreed to ten unpaid furlough days and a deferral of a cost of living increase; and state police officers and corrections employees have also opted for a one-year wage freeze.

These negotiations were made to avoid layoffs, concluding that it was better for the whole to sacrifice to save the few. Unfortunately, there is no such progress being made here in New York.

The Civil Service Employees Association (CSEA), the state’s leading union, has filed a grievance with the Governor’s Office of Employee Relations over Governor Paterson’s move to delay raises for about 150,000 employees. A statement made by CSEA indicated that the union “has every expectation of prevailing against the governor’s arbitrary and unilateral action.” I don’t see much room for negotiation in that statement.  

Public employees who are vulnerable to the proposed layoffs may want to ask their union leadership what is being done to protect their job.  It seems a legitimate question when it has been demonstrated that a wage freeze could prevent large-scale lay-offs that would put more New Yorkers out of work.

Binghamton University professor Patrick M. Regan, recently ran an op-ed urging fellow union members to back a wage freeze. Regan assessed the situation quite accurately, stating that “it seems we want the fiscal crisis to end, but we do not want to bear any of the pain associated in that score.”

This is not a referendum on teachers or public employees. We in the private sector recognize how fortunate we are to live in a state with quality educators and public employees. This is why we choose to live in New York. The reality is that this is a system that will collapse of its own weight. As the private sector continues to shrink, there simply is not enough revenue to support the continued rise of  wages and benefits for public employees. And it is unrealistic to assume the next generation of New Yorkers will be able to foot the bill.  What will happen when our young teachers, police officers and other qualified public employees are the next to leave New York, rather than be the first to go when times get tough?

It may be incumbent upon the public employees themselves to lead the charge for change right now. If they do the Unshackle Army will be standing beside them.