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State workers accept voluntary furlough plan

May 26, 2011
NEAL P. GOSWAMI
Staff Writer
BENNINGTON — The largest bargaining unit within the Vermont State Employees Association has agreed to a voluntary furlough plan, a union official said Wednesday.

The deal was announced by Terry Lefebvre, chairwoman of the VSEA’s non-management bargaining unit. Gov. Peter Shumlin said earlier this year, shortly after taking office, that he wanted to find $12 million in labor savings to help balance the state budget.

A voluntary furlough plan, as well as increasing state worker retirementcontributions, redesigning health care plans and reducing outside personal service contracts were among the suggestions Shumlin made in January.

VSEA spokesman Doug Gibson said changes to the health care plan are still being negotiated. And little progress has been made on reducing outside contracts, according to Gibson.

Lefebvre said the bargaining unit, which includes the Agency of Human Services, the largest state agency, was receptive.

“Enough NMU members expressed interest in the voluntary furlough concept for our team to pursue the idea with the state,” she said. “After many discussions and a lot of back-and-forth, we were able to reach agreement on acceptable guidelines for how the program will work, including a sunset date of June 30, 2012. But because this program will be voluntary, the NMU team can’t make promises about how much money will end up being saved. Personally, I commend my NMU colleagues, and I’m proud of them for agreeing to voluntarily help Vermont confront its ongoing economic problems.”

Kate Duffy, the state’s commissioner of the Department of Human Resources, said state officials are unsure how much money will be saved. The deal is “sort of an experiment to see what is possible,” she said.

“I don’t know that we have a target. It is very hard to anticipate what the response will be,” she said. “It is a little up in there so I would agree with the VSEA that it’s a little hard to say.”

The deal will allow employees to participate in two furlough enrollment periods, one in mid-June and another in mid-November. Managers could reject employee requests for the voluntary leave. Employees who sign up must take a minimum of 40 hours of unpaid time off over the course of the year.

“They have extremely wide latitude on how to structure it and we will listen to any proposals,” Duffy said.

Lefebvre said some state employees told NMU bargaining team members that a voluntary furlough program could allow them to take desired time off. Lefebvre said some employees indicated that has not been a viable option in recent years because of budget cuts to services and the workforce.

VSEA members belonging to the union’s Corrections, Supervisory and Defender General units have decided not to seek an agreement with the state for a similar voluntary furlough program.

Contact Neal P. Goswami at ngoswami@benningtonbanner.com

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