Douglas Administration set to cut 300 positions

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(Host) The Douglas Administration is moving to cut 300 state positions after negotiations broke down with the state workers’ union.

The talks deadlocked over budget cuts the administration wanted for the next two years.

VPR’s John Dillon reports:

(Dillon) The lengthy bargaining session ended with both sides blaming the other for the impasse.

Governor Jim Douglas said his administration had agreed with the union to save $7.4 million this year through furloughs and benefit cuts. The governor said he offered a major concession by promising not to lay off more workers this year.

(Douglas) I was willing to give that up in order to achieve the savings and come to an agreement with the union leaders. All I asked in return for that was a commitment that the savings be continued into subsequent fiscal years.

(Dillon) And that was the crux of the dispute. The administration wanted the union to agree to trim $10 million in payroll costs for each of the next two years.

(Douglas) We have a $200 million problem for the next years. And I think it’s more than reasonable to ask that we carry the savings from the current year to the next couple of years so we don’t have to renegotiate those savings another time.

(Dillon) But the union said major cuts in the future should be negotiated in next year’s labor contract. Jes Kraus is the executive director of the state employees association.

(Kraus) We think going through formal collective bargaining channels is the way that you address these long term issues. And we have been going through that process. We will continue to negotiate in good faith with the administration. But right now, what’s hanging over our head is the threat of 200-300 lay-offs.

(Dillon) Douglas said the state would begin immediately to cut about 300 positions. Because some jobs are unfilled, the number of actual lay-offs will likely be lower. The governor said the state government can absorb the cuts.

(Douglas) We have more state employees providing the services of state government now than we did six years. So we have an adequate workforce. And I think state employees now this is the time when we have hunker down to tighten our belts to find new and better ways of accomplishing our goals with fewer resources.

(Dillon) But the union says the workforce has expanded as the ranks of managers and political appointees have grown.

Union President Bob Hooper said state services will suffer as more people who work on the front lines of state government are let go.

(Hooper) There is an element of pride in what members of this workforce do. And I think they recognize that as Governor Douglas decimates the workforce, he is also de-grading the quality of the public service that we offer, and that does not seem to be one of the issues that is on his radar.

(Dillon) Democratic leaders in the Legislature criticized the administration’s decision to proceed with lay-offs. They said this round of job cuts could have been avoided if the administration had not tied the negotiations to next year’s budget.

For VPR News, I’m John Dillon in Montpelier.

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