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Syracuse, N.Y., unions avoid layoffs, negotiate across-the-board furloughs instead

Photo by Denis Tangney Jr.
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By Amorette Miller, AFSCME Council 66 ·

After months of conversations concerning pandemic-related budget shortfalls, the City of Syracuse and labor unions representing city workers avoided layoffs and instead agreed on four days of furloughs for all civilian employees over a nine-month period.

The agreement will help ease a $2 million shortfall in the city’s budget due to COVID-19-related revenue losses.

All city employees, including Mayor Ben Walsh, will be furloughed over four Fridays spread out over nine months.

Unions said the agreement calls for most workers to be furloughed – rank-and-file staff and managers alike. The city’s original furlough plan would have exempted management and rank-and-file employees with seniority and imposed furloughs only on workers with certain job titles in a few departments.

If unions had rejected that plan, the city proposed laying off workers instead. The unions came together and, with the city, devised the alternative furlough plan – and avoided layoffs.

“We as union presidents thought it was a really good idea for us to combine our efforts,” said Jon Payne, president of AFSCME Local 1773 (Council 66). “At first the furloughs were not equitable, but the city sat down with us. We had to figure out a way to spread the pain among the workforce to minimize impact. Our most senior workers wanted to take part even though they wouldn’t have had to in a standard layoff or furlough by reverse seniority.”

Employees will be furloughed on Oct. 30 and Nov. 20 in 2020 and May 7 and June 25 in 2021. Under the agreement, the city’s sanitation workers will forgo an equivalent amount of holiday pay rather than participate in the furlough program.

AFSCME affiliates said the Syracuse model could be replicated in other municipalities and school districts affected by the COVID-19 crisis.

“While no one celebrates the advent of furloughs, the fact that, together, a plan was developed that mitigates the impact on certain employees, prevents layoffs and still offers the financial relief the city needed for sustainability should be applauded,” said Kerry Lightcap, Council 66’s attorney. “The agreement on this furlough plan is a testament to what can be accomplished when labor and management work together and when individuals act not out of self-interest but collective interest.”

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