New York Mayor Braces for Reaction to His Layoff Plan

FISCAL RESPONSIBILITY

By , Staff writer of The Christian Science Monitor

ONLY a week after presenting his $31.2 billion budget, which includes the loss of at least 15,000 jobs, New York City Mayor Rudolph Giuliani says he has asked city officials to prepare contingency plans for the possibility of labor unrest.

New York State law prohibits city employees from striking, and one union has already demonstrated against the proposed cuts. Even though the new Republican mayor says he's not expecting major difficulties, he says: ``We are ready to face whatever to make a structurally sound budget.''

The city faces a budget gap for the next fiscal year of $2.3 billion. Under Mayor David Dinkins (D), the municipal work force grew despite warnings from watchdog groups that the city's head count was too high for the budget.

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City leaders optimistic

City officials point out that they are optimistic that they can resolve their differences with the city's unions through collective bargaining. ``I have spoken to all the labor leaders, and they have all said they are coming to the table with an open mind, and I have assured them I have an open mind,'' says Randy Levine, the mayor's labor commissioner.

However, Rosia Blackwell-Lawrence, executive assistant to Municipal Hospital Workers Union President James Butler, says: ``Our plan is for more demonstrations, to take it to the streets.''

For his part, Mr. Levine says there have been discussions with the labor leaders, but not negotiations. He expects to begin negotiating ``in the next couple of weeks'' once the labor leaders digest the mayor's plan. The negotiations will continue through April when the ``executive budget'' is presented to the City Council. The final budget must be passed by July.

The negotiations are critical since they could determine the number of layoffs the city has to make to bridge the budget gap. The city, for example, will be asking the unions for productivity improvements and benefit givebacks. The number of actual layoffs will depend on how much it gets back from the unions.

Severance pay may be offered

In the budget proposal presented Feb. 2, the mayor - who campaigned on a platform of fiscal responsibility - said the city might offer severance pay to some 8,000 of its 295,136 employees whom it would like off the payroll by July. At a press conference, Mr. Giuliani said the city expected the average severance payout would be about $17,000. The city wants the employees off the payroll before the end of the current fiscal year so it can parlay the savings into the next fiscal year. The severance package, which would require the unions' cooperation, would be in lieu of layoffs.

To protest part of the Mayor's plan, about 1,000 members of the hospital workers union, part of the American Federation of State, County, Municipal Employees (AFSCME) rallied outside the Health and Hospitals Corporation headquarters on Feb. 3. Giuliani plans for 463 layoffs in the hospitals, plus the privatization of at least two hospitals.

Under his plan, the worst hit uniformed-services union is sanitation with a possible loss of 1,484 jobs. Peter Scarlotos, Uniformed Sanitationmen's Association president, says he's looking forward to negotiating with the city.

Longtime city residents, however, will remember the municipal garbage strike that took place under Mayor John Lindsay (R) in 1970. The strike caused much political upheaval.

Mayor Ed Koch (D) had fared better when city transit workers struck in 1980. He rallied New Yorkers to ride bicycles and find alternative means of transportation. Without much public support, the strike was not successful.

The other uniformed services and the police and fire departments will fare better under the budget proposal. The police will increase by 899 people while fire will add 37 people. This increase is not surprising since Giuliani campaigned on an anticrime platform as well.

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