NY faces looming state government workforce crisis

ALBANY—The executive budget proposed by Gov. Kathy Hochul would invest more than $18 million in programs intended to boost the state government’s lagging workforce as key agencies face a looming shortage of more than 12,500 workers. More than 26 percent of the state government workforce is eligible for retirement within the next five years, according to projections released Wednesday, while turnover among government workers has also increased amid a national labor shortage. That has led to a dearth of government employees in areas like New York City, where the shortage is especially acute. The state has lost 14,375 employees since March 2020. Hochul’s proposals to turn around the state government workforce includes an automatic increase to minimum wage through indexing wages to inflation. That much-touted proposal would affect thousands of state employees as well as those in non-government service. The budget also directs the state to begin giving state employees 12 weeks of fully paid parental leave. The budget prioritizes programs to modernize the state government’s employment structure, including offering remote recruitment training and examinations, as well as updating a job evaluation system that will use pay equity requirements and “put the state’s employees on a level playing field with the private sector. ” In another node to changes in workplace culture among privatized industries, the state will consider the widespread adoption of hybrid work schedules, launching pilot projects to modernize state office buildings in pursuit of that goal. In a statement, the Civil Service Employees Association indicated that Hochul’s proposals are a start to boosting recruitment. “Gov. Hochul recognizes the value of public service and investing in recruitment efforts needed to provide and maintain that service,” CSEA President Mary Sullivan said. “For too many years the state and local workforce has been decimated making it harder to provide the services the citizens of New York state depend on.” Budget officials touted an investment in staffing among several key agencies, including the State Police, Office of Mental Health, Department of Environmental Conservation, Department of Motor Vehicles and Department of Corrections and Community Supervision — many of which will be tasked with leading the rollout of several of Hochul’s chief priorities over the next year. They include major environmental programs like curbing carbon emissions as well as the ongoing expansion of cannabis sales and licensing. Programs to recruit younger talent were also outlined, including a public awareness campaign to highlight available opportunities across the state with the hopes of reaching a young and diverse audience. A scholarship program to recruit new nurses in the wake of a health care worker shortage would require scholarship recipients to commit to a set period of in-state work while supporting nursing students’ tuition costs. The budget would extend incentive programs developed in years prior, including a waiver on the income limit for retired teachers in order to bolster staffing at schools. The waiver, part of last year’s budget, was set to expire this year. The limit was previously $35,000 for retirees who rejoin the workforce. The budget would also extend the worker bonus for health care and mental hygiene workers, rewarding frontline state employees with no more than a $3,000 bonus. Wayne Spence, president of the Public Employees Federation, said the budget proposals at first glance seemed to address the union’s priorities in tackling a chronic workforce shortage that has been significantly exacerbated by the pandemic. “PEF is very pleased that Gov. Hochul advanced a concrete plan to rebuild the state workforce to ensure the continued efficient and effective delivery of all state services,” Spence said in a statement.

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