COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — Governors across the nation are seeking significant concessions from public employee unions that they hope can help balance their teetering budgets during the economic downturn.
From Maryland to California, Ohio to Hawaii, governors have asked or ordered that state workers accept furloughs, salary reductions, truncated work weeks or benefits cuts. They say the concessions are a better alternative to more job losses in the face of record-breaking unemployment.
In hard-hit Ohio, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has asked unionized state employees to consider shortening their work week to 35 hours, taking a 5-percent pay cut and eliminating paid personal days and holidays for savings of hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to an Ohio union memo obtained by The Associated Press, the Ohio Civil Service Employees Association is waiting to see Strickland's upcoming budget and the state's share of the federal stimulus package before making a decision. Executive director Andy Douglas declined comment because the union is in negotiations.
The memo said there's no guarantee accepting concessions will preclude later job cuts, though the 5-percent across the board cut could save $163 million.
Gov. Martin O'Malley of Maryland, another state facing an unexpectedly deep budget shortfall, imposed furloughs and salary cuts on thousands of state workers in December in a plan saving an estimated $34 million.
In November, New Jersey trimmed two paid holidays from state workers' annual allotment: Lincoln's Birthday and the Friday after Thanksgiving. Eliminating the former holiday required legislative action and Gov. Jon Corzine was able to cut the latter on his own.
Utah has also eliminated one paid holiday a year and is testing out a four-day state work week.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle has also raised the possibility she will pursue furloughs for that state's 36,000 employees, asking them to pay a larger share of their health insurance coverage, and foregoing raises.
California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger was able to impose furloughs two days a month beginning in February as a way to curb cost for the the state's 230,000-member state payroll to begin addressing a budget deficit projected to grow to $28 billion by 2010.
He has had less success shaving two paid holidays off the current 14 that state workers receive, an allotment that is among the most generous in America.
Spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor is "looking under every rock" to cut costs and believes it's a matter of fairness for state workers to do their part.
"We can't go out there and tell the people of California, 'We're going to do all these terrible things to you (as a result of budget cuts),' and 'Oh, by the way, we've got 14 days off a year,'" he said.
On The Net:
National Association of State Budget Officers: www.nasbo.org
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: www.afscme.org
Copyright 2009 The Associated Press.