Operating hours on the Erie Canal and other canals might be reduced this year in the face of layoffs threatened by the Thruway Authority, a union spokesman charged Friday.
A Thruway Authority spokesman said it hasn’t been determined yet exactly who and where the layoffs will hit.
Daniel Weiller, communications director for the Thruway Authority, which also operates the canal system, said 234 union workers are to be pink-slipped April 3.
Of those, 42 would be canal employees and 192 would be Thruway workers.
Stephen Madarasz, spokesman for the Civil Service Employees Association, said he thinks that the administration of Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo is trying to intimidate the unions in talks over new contracts to replace pacts that expired June 30.
The CSEA’s canal members include lock operators and other technical workers on the waterways. The CSEA also represents engineers and other professional employees at the Thruway Authority.
Most of the Thruway workers targeted for layoff are members of the Teamsters Union, including toll collectors, Madarasz said. The CSEA represents 39 of the 192 Thruway workers whose jobs are at stake.
“We certainly believe what the governor’s doing is trying to squeeze the employees with layoffs,” Madarasz said. “We think he’ll go ahead with it. We don’t think it’s a bluff.”
He said the canals are not heavily staffed now. “There’s some indication they’re going to reduce canal hours,” he said.
Weiller denied that, saying, “At this time, no determination has been made on the impact of layoffs, including canal hours.”
He said because of complicated questions regarding worker seniority and “bumping rights” that could move a displaced worker into another person’s job, it’s still uncertain who will stay and who will go.
“There was an ongoing need to address the financial situation of the authority and the Canal Corp.,” Weiller said, adding that the layoffs would save about $20 million from the authority’s $977.5 million budget.
Madarasz said, “The Thruway Authority saying it’s got to address its financial challenges is really a bogus argument in many ways. It’s been a badly run agency for years because it had too many political hacks. To punish the people who are out there doing the work is a bit much.”
The CSEA issued a statement noting that no political appointees are being laid off.
Weiller said all non-union employees’ pay has been frozen since 2009, and some non-union workers haven’t received a raise since 2006. He said they also have lost some benefits that union employees still have.
“We’ve eliminated hundreds of positions prior to this,” Weiller said. In the past three years, 361 jobs were wiped out through retirements and departures.
At present, the Thruway Authority has 2,470 employees and the Canal Corp. has 498.
Asked if the layoffs still would happen if the unions agreed to make concessions that saved the authority $20 million, Weiller said he couldn’t respond.
Madarasz said, “We think this is a ruthless administration which wants to show they’re in charge, even at the expense of public services and the people who deliver them.”