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100 workers in Jefferson, St. Lawrence received layoff notices

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One hundred workers in Jefferson and St. Lawrence counties could be without a job if a contract dispute between Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo's administration and the Public Employees Federation is not resolved, though it appeared Friday that the two sides were inching toward an agreement that would stave off layoffs.

In Jefferson County, 49 PEF workers have received layoff notifications that will go into effect in three weeks, according to figures provided by Mr. Cuomo's administration. In St. Lawrence County, 51 PEF workers have received the same notifications. No Lewis County workers are affected.

PEF, which represents 56,000 professional, scientific and technology workers and is the state's second-largest union, turned down a contract offer from Mr. Cuomo's administration that would have slashed benefits like health care and instituted furloughs, but would have spared the union from layoffs. Mr. Cuomo, whose budget closed a $10 billion budget gap, gave the state's unions a choice. Accept negotiated concessions, or the state would have to find the savings with layoffs, the only way it could.

The majority of the workers who have received layoff notifications in St. Lawrence County — 29 — work at the St. Lawrence Psychiatric Center, according to union sources, sources at the center and legislative sources.

In Jefferson County, the Dulles State Office Building in Watertown was the hub of layoffs. Department of Transportation workers there received layoff notices, but it wasn't immediately clear how many.

The ongoing drama is far from over. Mr. Cuomo and PEF leaders are singing a similar tune about layoffs: They're trying to avoid them.

What remains in question, though, is how that will be done. It seems clear that the two sides will come back to the negotiating table.

Kenneth Brynien, the PEF president, said in a statement today that “We are anxious to discuss with the governor’s negotiators how we can reach an agreement my members are willing to ratify while preserving state services and meeting the savings the state requires. Our team remains in place, ready and willing to meet with the governor’s negotiators. We are now in the process of making those arrangements."

And Mr. Cuomo said on the Capitol Pressroom, an Albany radio show, that he was open to "tweaks" in the proposed contract.

""If tweaks means I have to find more money from the taxpayers, that's not a tweak," Mr. Cuomo said.

He said also he was unwilling to offer five-year job security to state workers.

"I don't have five-year job security," Mr. Cuomo said. "Nobody gets, 'You will have a job no matter what happens for five years.'"

Because of a labyrinthine process of public-worker layoffs, it's impossible to say that 100 layoff notices means that 100 people in the north country will lose their jobs. For example, if an employee who received a layoff notice in Ogdensburg has more seniority than a worker at a state facility in Western New York, that worker can "bump" the one with less seniority.

Workers without many years of service in the north country, too, are vulnerable to bumping.

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