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CSEA faces reality State employee union deserves credit for agreeing to a painful contract

State government recently reached an important accord that drew little notice. The largest union representing state workers, the Civil Service Employees Association, ratified a contract freezing base wages for three years, followed by 2 percent annual raises in the contract's last two years. The deal would also provide employees with lump-sum retention payments of $775 in 2013 and $225 in 2014. Workers will have to take nine unpaid days off and pay more for their health insurance. Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo expects the new contract to save $73 million in the current fiscal year.

The 66,000 CSEA employees had their backs to the wall. The governor was predicting mass layoffs if the workers didn't approve his offer. But public employees in New York have rejected proposals under similar scenarios before. And in New York, when contracts for public employee unions expire, nearly all of the terms remain in effect until a new contract begins. So ratification was not certain.

Yet it was ratified, by a significant margin. "These are not ordinary times," CSEA President Danny Donohue said in a statement. These are unusual times because governments everywhere are struggling, and the nation's wheezing economy could flop into a second recession absent significant job growth.

Public employee unions, with their generous pay and benefits, are a favorite target of hostile opinion. Lately that opposition has been ratcheted up a few degrees. Wisconsin's experiment with limiting the bargaining rights of public employees illustrates some of the sentiments found out there.

Only CSEA members know whether they were considering this mood of the public when they accepted Cuomo's proposal by 60 to 40 percent. That they did vote that way means they did what's right for them, of course, and we would agree with Donohue that they also did "what is right for the good of all New Yorkers."

The CSEA's ranks perform important services, and New York is better off with those workers doing their jobs rather than collecting unemployment checks. They, too, are better off doing their jobs rather than joining the lines of unemployed.

The governor's office projects that if the state's other unions agree to the same terms, New York would save $1.6 billion over five years. Next to consider a new agreement is the 56,000-member Public Employees Federation, in September. We urge the members to do what's best for them and for New Yorkers by ratifying the new contract.

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