ALBANY -- State employees and a major union Thursday were crying foul in the wake of complaints that some targeted workers were initially told they had an hour to make decisions that could affect their careers and the rest of their lives.
Others received notices suggesting they had until Friday to decide what "bumping" options, if any, they wanted in the first round of what could be thousands of state employee layoffs.
"We were informed of two situations today, at Tax and Finance and OASAS (Office of Alcohol and Substance Abuse Services), where PEF members were given layoff notice and an hour to make final placement choices. While we interceded in both cases to get members additional time to make decisions, we are concerned that this may be happening in other agencies without our knowledge," read an email from Susan C. Mitnick, director of civil enforcement at the Public Employees Federation.
PEF represents most of the 451 people slated for layoffs in what the Cuomo Administration has said is the first "wave" of up to 9,800 job cuts.
"Some people brought it to our attention,'" said Darcy Wells of PEF.
Contract talks continued Thursday and Wells said the layoff notices seemed like a pressure tactic.
"We're still at the table with them and we are not happy about it," she said of the layoffs.
Guidelines for state workforce reductions say employees should get a "reasonable amount of time," to consider possible job transfers which in some cases can mean pulling up roots and moving to another part of the state, she added.
"Under no circumstance is an hour or a couple of hours reasonable," Wells said, noting the agencies ended up giving people more time for their decisions after the union got involved.
"We were operating under a short time-frame," said Tax and Finance spokeswoman Susan Burns, who echoed Wells' statement that employees did end up getting more time for their decisions.
"We are being flexible in accommodating changes," Burns said.
A call to OASAS wasn't returned late Thursday.
The short time-frame may be indicative of the push by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to get people off the payroll in order to achieve savings targets by the end of the current fiscal year, which is April 1 2012.
Every day that goes by, the savings become more difficult to achieve.
The governor has said he's looking to save $450 million in workforce costs this fiscal year, with much of the money presumably coming from union concessions. If he can't find the savings, the governor and his planners have said they would lay off up to 9,800 people as a "last resort."
Contracts for the state's major unions expired in April and the governor's negotiators are in talks.
Last month, the largest union of state workers, the 66,000-member Civil Service Employees Association, tentatively agreed to a contract without raises for two years, furloughs and higher health care payments.
In return, Cuomo said he would shield CSEA members from budgetary layoffs. That deal still needs ratification but if approved in August, it could prevent up to 4,500 potential job cuts for that union.
Cuomo's negotiators have made a similar offer to the 56,000-member PEF.
Under state civil service rules layoffs must be carried out in reverse order of seniority, generally within certain job classifications.
So if a grant administrator, or statistician, is targeted, for instance, he or she may have the opportunity to "bump" or take the job of someone who has less seniority, even though that could mean taking a lower-paid job or moving to a new location.
In some cases, people may have several bumping options from which to choose which is why the time-frame can be important.
Career or job placement experts said it's unrealistic to make such decisions in an hour -- even if one knows the potential layoff notice is coming.
"That sounds drastic," said Tom Denham of Careers in Transition. "It takes me an hour to decide what I'm going to have for dinner."
"I can't believe that some people are given an hour to make a decision that will effect their entire lives," added Tom McKenna at McKenna and Associates.
"Even when you know something is coming, when it hits you it's a shock," he said of the notices.
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