January/February 2021 Issue
December 19, 2020

Furloughs, layoffs are not the answer

Author: Ned Hoskin
Source: NYSUT United
andy pallotta
Caption: NYSUT President Andy Pallotta spoke to CNYNews about the situation in Syracuse.

The statewide union is standing up for common sense and urging calm this holiday season as districts struggle with reduced state aid and fear further fiscal fallout of the pandemic.

The rush to cut staff might save pennies, but the cost to the community is devastating.

Two weeks before the holiday break, the Syracuse Teachers Association met to discuss the district’s sudden plans to furlough and lay off teachers and School-Related Professionals, plans based on potential 20 percent cuts in school aid.

NYSUT President Andy Pallotta, who met online with STA members and President Bill Scott, said it’s not clear why the district floated this proposal.

Pallotta called the Division of Budget in Albany and asked if there was some new directive to cut staff, because the Syracuse district said it had no choice.

“The answer I got is no,” he said.

STA’s Scott said 85 percent of the district’s funding comes from the state, and proposed cuts could result in a $40–$70 million shortfall. But they haven’t happened yet.

The district has already enacted a central office hiring freeze, begun austerity spending and program reductions. It seeks the layoffs and furloughs to help cut $15 million in spending for the remainder of the school year, Scott said. Talks with the STA continue.

“We are working on finalizing an agreement for voluntary furlough that would meet members’ needs and would not interfere with instruction,” Scott said.

Districts in several regions went through the same thing in September. After efforts to pass a second COVID-19 stimulus bill in Washington stalled, some districts threatened massive layoffs because, they said, the state told them aid was being withheld and the cuts had to be made.

NYSUT and local unions fought back — even taking legal action — and the Division of Budget promised to deliver some of the delayed school aid payments and to hold off on further cuts until after the elections. DOB said it was all a misunderstanding.

Some layoffs were averted, although many were not, including in Schenectady, Albany and Rochester.

NYSUT continues its Fund Our Future initiative that calls for new federal stimulus funding for education and state revenue enhancements, including taxes on the ultra-wealthy.

NYSUT expects to see a pandemic aid package from the federal government, although there are no guarantees.

In mid-December, NYSUT, other labor unions and the State AFL-CIO urged lawmakers to increase revenue by taxing ultramillionaires and billionaires, saying it would raise up to $9 billion to offset the economic strain of the coronavirus crisis.

As a result, Gov. Cuomo announced $1.5 billion to provide money to organizations facing cash flow issues. The state AFL-CIO supported the move as a temporary fix to help keep organizations operational in January and February while the state budget is being negotiated. NYSUT is working with the governor’s office to ensure that these funds will be accessible by public schools, SUNY and CUNY to stave off additional cuts and layoffs.

Meanwhile, the Whitesboro district, near Utica, put 103 non-teaching staff members on furlough between Thanksgiving and Christmas while the district switched to remoteonly learning. The local Whitesboro Employees Union ensured furloughed staff members retained health insurance coverage and could use paid time off.

“This is an incredibly painful situation for the members of the WEU and one that we do not take lightly,” Jennifer Faulkner, union president, told the Observer-Dispatch. “Make no mistake, though, the district’s decision will have ripple effects across our community.”

Help from your union

NYSUT’s online Career Center at nysut.org/careercenter includes links for education job listings in New York State, along with information to help you progress in your career and many links to additional resources.

The “Resources for Laid-Off Employees” provides information about protecting your benefits, your rights in returning to work, and news and resources to help in a job search.