ALBANY, NY – A combination of downsizing and a tough contract has claimed a leader of a state worker union — correctional officers leader Donn Rowe has been voted out of office.
Rowe had been, since 2008, president of the approximately 26,000-member New York State Correctional Officers & Police Benevolent Association. He lost his recent bid for re-election.
Larry Flanagan, whom Rowe defeated in 2008, and Michael Powers will compete in a runoff vote scheduled for July 10.
NYSCOPBA represents several law enforcement titles but mostly the approximately 19,000 guards, or correctional officers, sergeants and lieutenants who work in the prison system.
That number is down from about 20,600 at the end of 2010.
Since that time, the state’s prison population has shrunk from about 57,200 to 54,000.
The union has been battling prison closings, a priority of the Cuomo administration.
By July, 15 prisons will have been closed since the start of 2011. Among the recent closings or announced closings are the Lyon Mountain facility in the Adirondacks and Saratoga County’s Mount McGregor, in July.
Vinny Blasio, a top NYSCOPBA official, said the closings were a factor in Rowe’s ouster, as was the recent labor contract that included three years without raises. It was similar to other contracts approved by state workers.
“Somebody paid the price and that was Donn Rowe,” said Blasio, the union’s recording secretary who was unopposed in the recent election.
“Correctional services (employees) have been hit harder than any other union,” he said.
He said the prison closures, along with difficult contracts coming out of the recession and hard attitudes toward public employees, amounted to a ”perfect storm” for Rowe.
Rowe isn’t the first union leader to be tossed in recent years.
Members of the Public Employees Federation in 2012 ousted Ken Brynien in favor of Susan Kent, with almost everyone agreeing that the contract, which members approved under the threat of layoffs, led to the change.
Earlier this year, Dick Iannuzzi, the former president of the state’s largest teachers union, New York State United Teachers, was defeated by challenger Karen Magee.
NYSUT represents teachers in local school districts hit by a property tax cap Cuomo pushed through in 2011. The action led to staff cuts and crimped salary increases in the schools.