State workers, Douglas Administration divided over furloughs

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(Host) Time is running out for the state employees union and the Douglas Administration to reach an agreement over a plan to cut labor costs by roughly $7.5 million in this year’s budget.

The Union, with legislative support, is seeking to meet this goal by using unpaid furlough days. But the Administration is not enthusiastic about the approach.

VPR’s Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) A number of states are asking their employees to accept furlough days as a way to deal with severe budget pressures.

In California, many state employees are being furloughed 3 days a month, and in Rhode Island, there’s a plan to furlough state workers one day a month.

Jes Kraus is the director of the Vermont State Employees Association.

He says legislative studies show that Vermont’s labor savings could be achieved by implementing 10 furlough days this year:

(Kraus) "I think we’re up to around 20 other states right now that are implementing some form of furlough days.  And that’s how they’re solving their problems, and in fact the Joint Fiscal Committee of the Legislature has indicated their preference to use furlough days to help solve this problem."

(Kinzel) Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville says all options are on the table but he says he’s also looking for long term savings:

(Lunderville) "Things like furloughs – the costs come back after the furloughs are gone. And that would be ok if we were looking at a one year problem – we’re not looking at a one year problem…If we think short term it’s going to leave us with those other problems very soon. So we have to be thinking long term." 

(Kinzel) This fall, the Administration is also negotiating a new 2 year contract with the VSEA.

Lunderville says he hopes to include some structural changes in the state’s workforce as part of that contract:

(Lunderville) "We’re also looking at a $200 million problem for fiscal ’11 and fiscal ’12 – the next two fiscal years. So we can’t ignore the long term issues and we have to be looking at those right now."

(Kinzel) But VSEA director Kraus thinks those structural changes have already taken place:

(Kraus) "We’re already at about 2002 staffing levels right now. But in the same time frame we’ve added new programs and more work for the state to be doing. So we’ve already cut 8% of state government and that’s a huge amount of structural change that’s already occurred."

(Kinzel) Both sides say they hope to avoid any more layoffs. It’s estimated that roughly 250 state employees could lose their jobs if other options aren’t implemented.  The Administration says this matter needs to be resolved by the middle of September.

For VPR News I’m Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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