Employees union asks court to delay job cuts

06/04/09 5:50PM By Bob Kinzel
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AP File Photo/Toby Talbot
Jes Kraus, VSEA
(Host) The Vermont State Employees Union has gone to court in an effort to block the Douglas Administration from laying off almost 100 state workers on Friday.

The VSEA argues that the layoffs might not be needed if a new retirement incentive program is successful.

But the Douglas Administration says it's going ahead with the layoffs because there are too many uncertainties surrounding the incentive program.

VPRs Bob Kinzel reports.

(Kinzel) This is a story about politics, policy and the Vermont Constitution.

For several months, the Douglas Administration has proposed laying off 320 state employees as a way to reduce spending. The first 100 employees are set to lose their jobs on Friday.

But the VSEA wants the Administration to put these layoffs on hold until a retirement incentive program has been fully implemented.

Union director Jes Kraus says it's likely that more than 300 state workers who are currently eligible for retirement, will accept the incentive package and leave state government.  Kraus says that means the layoffs might not be needed:

(Kraus) "Why would you want to lay off all of these people? Many of the people we're hearing from - they may lose their houses as a result of this, they won't be able to keep their kids in college, they won't be able to do a number of things. Why not just give it a very small chance to work and see what kind of cost savings you realize first, before you make any rash decisions that have a significant impact to both individuals and state government."

(Kinzel) But Administration Secretary Neale Lunderville says that approach won't work because there are too many financial uncertainties about the incentive program:

(Lunderville) "We've never tried it before. We don't know how much it will save. Now let's remember if we continue to wait to make any choices in this we run the potential of having to layoff even more people, because the time will have elapsed and we won't be able to get the savings. So we need to continue to proceed down the path that we're on."

(Kinzel) A bill adopted by lawmakers during the Special Session also requires the approval of the Legislature's Joint Fiscal Committee if the Douglas Administration wants to reduce the state workforce by more than 1% or roughly 80 employees.

The Administration argues that this provision is unconstitutional because it's a gross violation of the separation of powers of government.

Secretary Lunderville says the governor might challenge this provision in court if lawmakers try to enforce it.

For VPR News, I'm Bob Kinzel in Montpelier.

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