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State’s Department of Transportation announces job cuts

Cites shortfalls, looks to trim 250 positions

By Brian R. Ballou
Globe Staff / February 6, 2010

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Workers at the state’s Department of Transportation were notified yesterday of 250 pending job cuts in a memo attached to their paychecks and via electronic message, citing significant budgetary shortfalls.

“This is obviously a very difficult decision, but also a necessary step during these tough financial times,’’ said Colin Durrant, spokesman for MassDOT, which has roughly 4,000 employees. The agency is a consolidation of MassHighways, the Massachusetts Turnpike Authority, the Registry of Motor Vehicles and other departments.

Durrant said the cuts will be across the board, but would be likely to include administration positions that became redundant under the consolidation of November.

The agency announced a Voluntary Layoff Incentive Program, that offers a $5,000 cash incentive for employees with 20 years or less service and $500 for each additional year up to 25 years, with a cap of $7,500. The deadline for filing an application for the program is Friday, and workers will be notified by Feb. 16 whether their application has been accepted. The last day of work for those whose applications are accepted will be Feb. 26.

Durrant said that if MassDOT does not arrive at 250 job cuts through the program, layoffs would be imminent.

“This announcement doesn’t surprise me; it’s safe to say they are following our report,’’ said Stephen J. Silveira, who chaired the 13-member Transportation Finance Commission, created by the Legislature in 2002 to come up with long-term recommendations to bring expenses in line with revenues at all of the state’s transportation agencies.

The commission, which no longer exists, issued its findings and recommendations in 2007. Silveira said the report, which contained 27 recommendations, did not specifically call for job cuts, however.

“They can’t just look at this thing numerically, because it’s one thing for them to say they’ll reduce the head count by 6 percent or whatever it is, to cut back on cost, but they need to make sure that the cuts are done strategically so they can still operate sensibly,’’ he said.

Karen Christie - president of United Steelworkers Union 5696, which represents 250 workers including engineers, supervisors, foremen, inspectors, dispatchers and others - said MassDOT has not revealed where the job cuts will come from.

“When this was presented to us about two weeks ago, I personally asked for the overall scheme and was told at the time by the director of labor relations there wasn’t one,’’ Christie said. “We do understand the financial condition of the state and that other places are being impacted as well as the highway department, but we want to make sure they do an analysis before making their decisions.’’

Durrant said public safety was a top consideration in the move.

“Certainly providing quality customer service and insuring public safety are the lens through which all the decisions are made,’’ he said. “We’re not interested in eliminating positions necessary to maintain roadway safety.’’