NH governor prepares department heads for hundreds of layoffs
CONCORD, N.H. - Governor John Lynch met yesterday with department heads planning for hundreds of layoffs he said will be needed because New Hampshire’s largest state employee union rejected a contract that included 19 furlough days.
The State Employees’ Association, which represents most of the state’s 11,500 workers, said Monday night that 41 percent of voting members were in favor of the contract and 59 percent opposed it. Union leaders had recommended rejecting the deal, despite Lynch’s warning that pink slips would go out within days if they did.
The governor’s office has said that as many as 750 jobs, or about 6.5 percent of the state work force, were at stake. Layoff notices were expected to begin going out this week, with all layoffs complete by the end of the month.
Lynch declined to comment after the meeting early yesterday, as did all but one of the agency heads who attended.
The state’s largest agency, the Department of Health and Human Services, is working to minimize the effect of layoffs, said its commissioner, Nick Toumpas. He warned that delays and the closing of facilities and programs are possible.
“It’s unfortunate that we’re in this situation, but we need to move forward, because as I indicated to our staff . . . it’s the mission of the organization,’’ he said. “There are a number of people that need our department to be there when they need help. It’s unfortunate that some of the people that will be coming to us right now are our colleagues.’’
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. He said repeatedly that he would prefer furloughs.
The union’s leadership had said that the proposal members rejected Monday provided limited job security protections, cut roughly $50 million in wages, and affected state employees unequally.
“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.’ ’’