A CPA should be able to determine to pay them what they would collect for UI and how them collecting UI will put the UI premiums you as an employer would have to pay. Then you will know which way will cost you the least.
In NY you collect half of what you would gross till you max out at $400.
So if your employees where making $600 a week their UI would be $300. So you can put them on "PT" and pay them the same $300 that they would get if they collected out of your own pocket. Though I can't see insurance premiums being the same or more then what a business would have to pay in salaries. So I think it would be cheaper to lay them off.
Telling them to get a job for the winter and they may get a better job and not come back.
Also if you do snow removal and they get an off season job they will not be available to work for you.
With them collecting, they can still work a day or two when ever their is a storm and they would lose a percentage of that weeks UI check. Next week they don't work and they get their full UI check again.