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N.H. employees reject furlough plan

By Holly Ramer
Associated Press / October 13, 2009

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CONCORD, N.H. - Members of New Hampshire’s largest state employees union yesterday rejected a labor contract that included 19 furlough days, and Governor John Lynch said he will begin laying off hundreds of workers this week.

The State Employees’ Association, which represents most of the state’s 11,500 workers, said the ballot count found 41 percent in favor and 59 percent opposed. Union leaders had recommended rejecting the deal, ignoring Lynch’s warning that pink slips would go out within days if they did.

Under the two-year state budget adopted in June, Lynch is required to cut $25 million in labor costs funded by state taxes. He can order layoffs without union consent, but not furloughs.

The union’s leadership had said that the proposal members rejected yesterday provides limited job security protections, cuts roughly $50 million in wages, and affects state employees unequally. Lynch repeatedly has said he would prefer furloughs over layoffs. His office has said as many as 750 jobs were at stake.

“Even under the threat of massive layoffs, our members have stood strong in their fight for a fair and reasonable solution to this budget crisis,’’ union president Gary Smith said after the vote. “The members have resoundingly rejected the tentative agreement and have said, ‘Let’s get back to the table and look for better solutions.’ ’’

The union called on Lynch to reopen negotiations on a new contract. Lynch said he was disappointed by the vote.

“Over the last few weeks, agencies have been developing plans for layoffs in the event the union rejected the contract,’’ the governor said in a statement. “I will be meeting with department heads [Tuesday] morning to begin implementing those plans, which include notifying impacted employees this week and completing most layoffs by the end of October.’’

As votes were being counted earlier yesterday, about 100 state workers rallied outside the State House, holding signs reading “Lynch Grinch’’ and “You took our support for granted.’’

They said Lynch rejected better alternatives to furloughs and layoffs ranging from revenue increases to cutting spending, especially on contracts for services not done by state workers.

Under terms of the rejected contract, workers would have had to give up 19 days of pay over the next two years.

The state and union had announced a tentative agreement for furloughs in July, but talks fell apart over wording in the contract. The agreement union members rejected yesterday was reached last month and contained very few changes.