Vt. state workers rally after stalemate
Oppose governor's plan to cut 660 job
MONTPELIER - Embroiled in a stalemate and hoping to avoid layoffs, a state workers' union lobbied at the Statehouse yesterday against job cuts proposed by Vermont's governor, warning that they would hurt employees and residents who rely on state services.
Wearing T-shirts that read "Got Public Services?" on the front and "660 job cuts, Vermont's Anti-Stimulus Package" on the back, about 300 members of the Vermont State Employees Association marched to the Capitol, rallied on the steps, and then poured inside the building to buttonhole lawmakers.
"Governor Douglas, get a clue; why not raise some revenue?" they chanted.
At issue is Governor Jim Douglas's response to an estimated $200 million budget gap for the fiscal year starting July 1. Douglas has been seeking to reduce labor costs for the 8,000-member state work force by about $17 million. He has proposed the equivalent of 660 job cuts.
The union has proposed alternatives, but yesterday the two sides were far apart.
"We can avoid layoffs, and we want to avoid them if we can," said Secretary of Administration Neale Lunderville. "But we have to find $17 million in base savings. Why? We've seen the total compensation for state employees go up 67 percent from 2000 to 2008, or 2 1/2 times the rate of inflation."
During the rally, union members and lawmakers, including state Representative Floyd Nease and state Senate President Pro Tem Peter Shumlin, decried cuts they said would compromise state services such as guarding prisoners and regulating the dairy industry.
The lawmakers pledged to use their power to avert large-scale layoffs.
"There will be cuts, but they will not be the governor's cuts," said Nease, a Democrat from Johnson.
Many workers are worried for their jobs.
"It doesn't make sense to make massive cuts in livable-wage jobs during a recession," said Joe Yoder, 53, a psychiatric technician at the Vermont State Hospital in Waterbury. "If the economy was good and they wanted to trim jobs, I could understand that. But if you put 600 people on the street, those people will be getting welfare and food stamps, and the state will be paying for that."
Lunderville said that without an agreement by the state and the union to reopen the union's contracts to impose cost-saving measures, layoffs are the only recourse.
"We're public servants," he said. "When Vermonters can't afford to support the salaries that we have, we should look at ways to trim back those costs so they can afford it."