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Employees in Many States Gloomy as Layoffs Loom

ASSOCIATED PRESS

Heard the one about why state workers only get half an hour for lunch?

Because if you let them take an hour you’d have to retrain them.

Jokes about state workers have been around since the dawn of civil service, but few of them are laughing in the face of layoffs expected to number in the thousands.

“Morale is very low,” said Mike Moran of the Civil Service Employees Assn., the largest of six unions that represent New York state employees. “Our people tend to mirror the national mood, and people think the country’s heading into a hard time.”

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Next to politicians, state workers might rank as the most maligned public servants in the nation. In Illinois, this was once suggested as a cheap method of capital punishment: Just tie the condemned prisoner to the steps of a state office building at quitting time.

State employees are the ones working on highways during rush hour, the people you wait in line to see at the Department of Motor Vehicles.

Come tax time, the howls get louder.

“It’s fairly standard for any voter to want more for less,” said John Yinger, professor of economics and public administration at Syracuse University.

New York state workers are easy targets because there are so many of them--about 240,000. (California has 12 million more people than New York, but just 27,000 more state employees.)

Albany, home of 50,000 state jobs, is the bull’s-eye.

Gov. Mario M. Cuomo defended New York’s civil servants last month, as he announced that up to 18,000 of those jobs would be eliminated.

“I don’t think we have swollen ranks of public employees,” Cuomo said. “I never did. We have about 158 per 10,000 (population), and that makes us about 19th in the U.S.”

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Albany disc jockey Bob Mason, who has made state-worker-bashing a part of his morning drive-time broadcast, has eased up on the subject.

“We always poke fun at them, but it’s no longer a laughing matter. They’re getting hosed on this deal,” Mason said.

State paychecks are usually as secure as the gold in Ft. Knox. New York’s last major layoffs were in 1983, when Cuomo said 14,000 jobs would be cut, but only 200 people were furloughed.

History isn’t expected to repeat itself, however, as New York and other states start cutting back on spending. Massachusetts already has laid off more than 1,700 of its employees.

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New York also has canceled 122 civil service exams. About 115,000 people take the tests each year, said Lois Uttley of the Civil Service Department.

“It’s a very attractive job for most people,” Uttley said. “We’ve had no shortage of candidates for most positions.”

The average salary of a New York state worker is $29,659, according to Uttley. All employees get 12 paid holidays a year and 13 days of vacation after one year. They also get three to five “personal” days off each year.

Some comparisons: Florida state jobs pay an average of $19,900 annually; the average in Pennsylvania is $25,392; Illinois $26,450; Alaska, with its 455 state workers per 10,000 population, pays an average salary of $38,520.

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“Frankly, the state (work force) has had a pretty good deal up to this point,” Mason said. “Everyone has always known a state worker who has had a better deal--up until now.”


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