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State unions warn about mass exodus as employee investment lags

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  • Staff Report 

The leaders of one of the largest unions representing public sector employees in New York State, the Public Employees Federation (PEF), have issued a warning about the possibility of a mass exodus of workers to other states or the private sector. The union leaders urged Governor Kathy Hochul to ramp up investments in workforce retention efforts, including greater teleworking flexibility, to address the impending worker shortage.

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PEF President Wayne Spence said the executive budget proposed by Governor Hochul, which promises more than $18 million in programs to address the worker shortage, at least begins to address the union’s concerns. However, the union leaders and Democratic lawmakers argue that the state’s workforce has long been “decimated and starved” and more investment is needed.

New York State is facing a workforce shortage of 12,500 workers at a time when 26% of the workforce is eligible for retirement in the next five years. Union leaders argue that the state is no longer an attractive or competitive employer, citing low pay, little flexibility in hybrid work, and a lack of modernized promotion structures. These issues are also hurting recruitment efforts, and the union warns that the well of young aspiring government workers applying for entry-level positions after taking civil service examinations has dried up.


Spence blamed the workforce shortage on a decade of disinvestment and privatization by New York State, referring to budget cuts made during former Governor Andrew M. Cuomo’s tenure. The union’s budget campaign, “Fund our Future,” calls on the state to stop relying on private contractors and instead develop a merit system to reduce their use. The union wants cost-benefit analyses conducted on all public projects to determine whether they can be carried out by state agencies before contractors are brought in.

PEF Vice President Randi DiAntonio warned that if there aren’t enough people doing civil service jobs, the most vulnerable New Yorkers will suffer. Spence also criticized the “toxic” culture of middle management, which he said has contributed to the lack of flexibility within agencies.

Governor Hochul’s budget does address some of the union’s concerns. The state will consider widespread hybrid work schedules, invest in scholarship programs to recruit young nurses, offer remote recruitment training, and update pay equity requirements and title evaluations. However, the union leaders and lawmakers are calling for more investment to ensure that civil service jobs remain an affordable option for those in younger generations, as well as to attract and retain skilled workers in New York State.



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