State employees’ union outlines plan to make trims, avoid job cuts

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(Host) The Vermont State Employees Union is backing a plan to reduce personnel costs. The proposal calls for a two year freeze on pay raises. And it includes a small pay cut for most state employees.

But, as VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports, the Douglas Administration says the plan doesn’t go far enough.

(Kinzel) The Union made the offer as an alternative to the Douglas Administration’s plan to cut 660 state jobs by the first of July. The Administration says the layoffs are needed to trim roughly $17 million from next year’s General Fund budget.

The VSEA plan doesn’t include any layoffs. Instead, it freezes pay raises for a two year period and it requires all employees to take four days of furlough during the year – this provision amounts to a 1.5% pay cut.

Union spokesperson Bill Harkness says the cost per employee is roughly $2,600:

(Harkness) "We are prepared to come to the table and seriously talk it’s not easy to stand up here and say that we want to talk $2600 out of the pockets of Vermonters especially considering some of the salaries that they make and they earn but they’re prepared to come to the table to help and keep Vermont on a fiscally responsible track and to save the services that we think are very important to Vermonters."

VSEA director Jes Kraus says the plan can achieve the structural reductions that the Douglas Administration is seeking because 25% of the union’s members will be eligible for retirement over the next 5 years:

(Kraus) "It would be a reduction by retirement instead of by layoff we think that that’s a very important alternative allowing somebody who has served the state for 30 years to retire in lieu of putting somebody ion the unemployment line further taxing those services during this time I think is a much preferable alternative."

Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville disputes some of the savings and he says there’s no time to wait for the retirement option:

(Lunderville) "That approach really just pushes the problem down the road it’s a wait and see approach that turns a blind eye to the $200 million budget gap we’re facing for fiscal 2010 and frankly the problem might get worse before it gets better we need to take action to find $17 million in labor cost savings now."

Lunderville says the Administration will make a counter offer to the VSEA that achieves $17 million in savings without layoffs, but it may mean that employees will need to accept some larger cuts in pay and benefits:

(Lunderville) "There are other ways to reach $17 million and we certainly hope and expect that we’ll continue to look at the range of options that we have and hope to find something eliminates the need to do layoffs."

Lunderville says he would like to get this issue resolved before the House considers next year’s budget in several weeks.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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