Officials promise job cuts unless progress made in union negotiations

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(Host) The state plans to lay off more workers next week unless there’s progress on cutting employee pay.

That was the word on Thursday from officials in the Douglas Administration.

VPR’s John Dillon has more.

(Dillon) The state employees union and the Douglas administration have made offers and counter offers, and the two sides will talk again on Friday.

But there was little progress shown in testimony before two Senate committees. Jes Kraus is director of the employees association. He said the administration’s proposal to impose a 5 percent salary cut for workers making $38,000 dollars a year is an unfair burden.

Kraus also criticized the administration’s list of 320 potential job cuts. He said many positions on the list are funded with grants or federal dollars. He said cutting these jobs won’t save the state much money.

(Kraus) If we really need to reduce the size of state government, doing so should be a careful and thoughtful process. And this body is in the best position to make decisions – big picture policy decisions – about what services are most important to Vermonters and what services Vermonters can do without.

(Dillon) Kraus suggested four jobs that can be cut are state public relations positions – known as "communicators."

(Kraus) One of things that’s ironic to us is that we are cutting front line employees like voc rehab counselors and Reach Up counselors and domestic violence specialists and in terms of your priorities does it really make sense to leave communicators in place when you’re cutting these front line employees who provide services, and particularly services to vulnerable populations who right now need those services more than ever.

(Dillon) The union has proposed furloughs and a freeze on salary increases as a way to reach $14 million dollars in savings.

But Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville said the state needs $17 million in permanent savings. He said the money saved through furloughs does not go far enough to cut the state government payroll.

(Lunderville) I think it is important for state employees as public servants in a time of economic contraction to share the sacrifice in an appropriate way.

(Dillon) Lunderville said if the talks end in a stalemate, the state will have to take more drastic action.

(Lunderville) If we aren’t able to achieve some kind of agreement where we have long term savings, we are prepared to move forward to get those savings with the only kind of mechanism we have through the existing contract, which are reductions in force.

(Dillon) That means layoffs, and they could take place as early as Monday.

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

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