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Judge Enjoins NY Furlough

ALBANY, N.Y. (CN) - A federal judge on Friday enjoined Gov. David Paterson from imposing a furlough and wage freeze on tens of thousands of state workers.

U.S. District Judge Lawrence Kahn found the emergency "extender bills" were unconstitutional and would cause irreparable harm to workers.

The bill would have slashed the salaries of state workers and denied raises owed under collective bargaining agreements. Paterson said the raises would be paid when the state's budget was set.

New York's budget is nearly 2 months overdue. The deadline was April 1.

Paterson sought to save $250 million by forcing workers to take a one-day-a-week furlough, cutting the state payroll by 20 percent.

But Judge Kahn ruled in issuing a preliminary injunction: "Plaintiffs have met their burden of showing that the permanent 20 percent loss in salary and wages that the furlough plan effects constitutes irreparable harm and their irreparable harm flows from defendants' failure to pay the contracted-for increases in salaries and wages, which were negotiated years prior to the challenged extender bill, and upon which the affected employees have surely relied."

Paterson had claimed that the financial crisis constituted a legitimate public purpose for the emergency bill. But Judge Kahn suspected there was more at play.

"The court observes that because the state lacks an enacted budget, the continued operation of state government and its services continually rests upon the Legislature's authorization of the weekly extender bills proposed by the governor," the judge wrote. "Thus, the bills, which are sent to the Legislature at a take-it-or-leave it basis for purposes of enacting the provisions, entail the legislative choice between allowing the government to shut down or approving the extender bill in its entirety."

Kahn implied that legislators had little choice but to vote for the bill.

"The contractual impairments were the sudden and sole work of the executive and were proposed in a manner that largely precluded legislative deliberation," the judge wrote.

Paterson said in a statement that he was "disappointed" by the ruling.

"In his ruling, however, the judge did not agree with the unions' position that the state is not experiencing a fiscal crisis," Paterson said. "I call upon legislative leaders to meet with the public employee union leadership to achieve the workforce savings that we agree must be part of an enacted state budget."

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