Tonawanda News

February 19, 2013

Union: canal layoffs hurt

Staff Reports
The Tonawanda News

Tonawanda News — The union representing several dozen Erie Canal employees who were recently laid off as part of New York state budget cuts attacked the measure this week. 

CSEA president Danny Donohue said the 42 canal workers were let go for reasons that are more political than practical, with the motivation centered on slow contract negotiations. The layoffs are among the 234 people to be terminated by the authority, which oversees the canal operations.

“This is just a bad idea, the canals are an invaluable resource for New York state in so many ways,” Donohue said in a statement. “It is very important that we let the public know how this ill conceived plan will hurt people, businesses and communities.”

Donohue said commercial traffic has diminished since the canal’s heyday, though the canal system still drives economic development in waterway communities, especially through tourism and recreation.

He added that the layoffs come at a critical time when major storms and flooding continue to threaten communities along the Mohawk Valley and the locks in some parts of the state require hands-on manipulation by skilled workers to control dam movement and regulate water levels.

To fight the cuts, Donohue said union members will begin handing out flyers on Saturday at the Central New York Boat Show, held in Syracuse. 

Donohue said that CSEA believes the layoffs are political retaliation because ongoing labor negotiations have not concluded. The fact that management employees and political appointees have been spared from layoffs is further evidence that unionized workers are being targeted in a vindictive action that makes no economic or operational sense.

“Governor Cuomo says his administration is about jobs and the economy but putting dedicated workers out of work and undermining the state Thruway and canal operations is a lousy way to promote a jobs agenda,” Donohue said.