Governors across the nation are seeking significant concessions from public employee unions in hopes of helping to balance their teetering budgets during the economic downturn.
From Maryland to California, Ohio to Hawaii, governors have asked or ordered state workers to accept furloughs, salary reductions, truncated workweeks or benefit cuts. They say the concessions are a better alternative to further job losses in the face of record-breaking unemployment.
Unions argue their members shouldn't be singled out and are even more vital in hard times — securing neighborhoods and prisons, educating children and providing social services to growing numbers of citizens.
In hard-hit Ohio, Democratic Gov. Ted Strickland has been a friend of the unions. But as the state's budget woes have intensified, he is asking unionized state employees to consider a 5 percent pay cut, a 35-hour workweek and the elimination of paid personal days and holidays, to save the state hundreds of millions of dollars.
According to a 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 a federal stimulus package before making a decision. Executive director Andy Douglas declined comment because the union is in negotiations.
The memo noted there's no guarantee that accepting concessions will preclude later job cuts.
Democratic 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, a move expected to save 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 required legislative action, while Democratic Gov. Jon Corzine cut the latter on his own.
Utah eliminated one paid holiday a year and is experimenting with a four-day state workweek.
Hawaii Gov. Linda Lingle, a Republican, has raised the possibility she will pursue furloughs for the islands' 36,000 state employees and ask them to pay a larger share of their health insurance coverage and forego raises.
On Thursday, Democratic Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell — facing down a widening budget gap — said layoffs and unpaid furloughs are likely in that state as well. He braced state workers for sharing in the "universal pain."
In California, Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger imposed furloughs two days a month beginning in February as a way to curb costs for the 230,000-member state payroll amid a budget deficit projected to grow to $28 billion by 2010.
He has had less success shaving two paid holidays off the current 14 state workers receive, an allotment that is among the most generous in the country.
Spokesman Aaron McLear said the governor is "looking under every rock" to cut costs and believes it's only a matter of fairness for state workers to do their part. "The governor doesn't believe it's fair to increase taxes and cut programs on Californians without reducing state government spending first," he said.
Kerry Korpi, director of research and collective bargaining at the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees union, said members understand that governments are in economic crisis.
"The entire country is in a dire situation," she said. "Our members, though, haven't quite been lifted back up from the last fiscal crisis in 2002 and 2003, so we've been asking governors to sit down with us and let's look at all the spending, instead of going straight to the people who provide these vital services."
On The Net:
National Association of State Budget Officers: http://www.nasbo.org
American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees: http://www.afscme.org
Source: AP News