February 20, 2009 Volume 110 Number 4

SEIU offers wage freeze to ease state budget crisis

Reacting to the State of Oregon’s budget crisis, the largest union of state employees went public Feb. 12 with a proposal for a two-year freeze of pay steps and eight unpaid furlough days.

Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 503 made the offer at a Feb. 10 contract bargaining session. The union is negotiating a new two-year agreement to replace the one that expires June 30. Local 503 represents more 22,000 workers at 20-plus state agencies and seven universities.

Under SEIU’s proposal, there would be no cost-of-living increases, but everything else would stay the same in the new contract — including step increases that reward longevity. The furloughs were suggested by Gov. Ted Kulongoski in his December budget proposal. If all state workers were furloughed, the state could save an estimated $4 million a day.

Local 503 spokesperson Kathie Best said the union would encourage members to use the furlough days to volunteer in schools, homeless shelters and other community institutions.

As of press time, negotiators for the state had not yet responded to the union’s proposal.

Another 7,000 state workers — including workers at state hospitals and prisons — are represented by American Federation of State, County & Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Oregon Council 75. Council 75 Executive Director Ken Allen said his union has been weighing similar proposals. AFSCME was ready to sign off on something of an austerity contract, Allen said – with no cost-of-living raises, and furloughs for some workers — but the governor’s office seemed to get cold feet about the deal, not sure if worsening budget situation would make even that unaffordable.

AFSCME’s next bargaining session is set for Feb. 23. That’s the same day a revised revenue forecast is due; if tax revenues continue to fall, that could lead state administrators to seek wage cuts or layoffs of state employees.

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