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Furloughs for N.Y. state workers blocked by judge

By Hussein Saddique, CNN
  • Measure would have forced thousands of state employees to take days off without pay
  • Controversial furloughs were approved by legislature May 10, prompting suit
  • Union leader: Ruling shows "that no governor can run roughshod over people's rights"
  • Governor says furloughs should continue until state leaders solve state's $9.2 billion budget deficit

New York (CNN) -- A federal judge in New York blocked a measure Friday that would have forced hundreds of thousands of state government employees to take several days off without pay.

The ruling, from U.S. District Court Judge Lawrence E. Kahn of the Northern District of New York, blocks controversial workers' furloughs that were approved by the New York legislature on May 10. That legislative measure prompted the suit before the judge, pitting the Civil Service Employees Association, a leading union in the state, against New York Governor David Patterson.

Union president Danny Donohue, who is named as a plaintiff in the suit, released a statement Friday saying, "Today's decision is a victory for the rule of law in New York and should make it clear that no governor can run roughshod over people's rights."

The controversial furloughs were approved 82-56 by the Democratic-controlled Assembly in New York's capital, Albany. The vote passed mostly along party lines, although some Democrats joined Republicans in opposition. The measure would have forced state employees to be given obligatory one-day unpaid holidays per week. The move enraged public employee unions across New York.

Paterson has said the furloughs need to continue every week until squabbling state leaders solve New York's $9.2 billion budget deficit. "I am disappointed by the Court's ruling, as it prevents the implementation of State employee furloughs and requires the immediate payment of public employee pay raises," the governor said in a statement. "In his ruling, however, the judge did not agree with the unions' position that the State is not experiencing a fiscal crisis."

The heart of the matter before the court is the right of New York, during a fiscal crisis, to enact emergency measures that break provisions of employees' contracts on work, wages and benefits.

Kahn wrote in his preliminary injunction that "The State of New York is party to collective bargaining agreements with a variety of public employee organizations," noting that the legislation "enacted unpaid furloughs, a wage freeze, and a benefits freeze on certain groups of state employees in contravention of a number of such contracts."

He went on to write, "The Court finds it is substantially unlikely ... that the challenged provisions before it will be upheld." On that basis, the judge blocked implementation of emergency measure provisions dealing with workers' furloughs and wages.