Senate leaders offer plan to save state jobs

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(Host) Leaders in the Vermont Senate hope to save 320 state jobs that the Douglas administration wants to cut from the budget. But their proposal is not getting a warm reception.

Talks between the union and the administration broke down earlier this week, and officials say layoffs will start soon.

Senate President Peter Shumlin proposed a compromise package that he says will save 14 million dollars in next year’s budget.

(Shumlin) "The threat of continued layoffs of hardworking state employees in the worst economic recession in the history of the state has paralyzed the ability of state workers to do their jobs. We’re playing Russian roulette with the state workforce and it has to stop."

(Host) The Senate’s proposal would require workers to take 10 days off without pay every year. It eliminates five public relations positions in state government. And it also would cut spending on private contracts by one-point-three million dollars a year.

Essex Orleans Senator Vince Illuzzi says he hopes the proposal will jumpstart talks between the state and the union.

(Illuzzi) There’s a human element to this discussion as there is in every job cut. And since the employees are our most valuable resource – many have extremely high skills, very technical experience, and to simply say you’re gone is not only a loss to them, it’s really a loss to us.

(Host) But the Senate’s proposal has not been embraced by either the union or the administration. Union director Jes Kraus said it’s not fair for workers to accept 10 days of furlough without pay year after year. He said the union was willing to discuss temporary furloughs, but Kraus said administration officials rejected that offer.

(Kraus) "My take on it is no, there is no more room for negotiation. I think what they are looking for is a pound of flesh. To ask employees to take a $3,900 pay cut forever for a current economic crisis really doesn’t make much sense."

(Host) Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville says the administration has to negotiate directly with the union, not the Legislature.

But he said he and the senators do agree on one thing – that the savings in labor costs have to be permanent.

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