Culver: State union concessions 'step in the right direction'

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UPDATED: Gov. Chet Culver is applauding a state employees’ union vote accepting cuts in pay and benefits, but he said it’s too early to say whether similar action may not be needed in the future.

“That is a huge step in the right direction,” Culver said today after members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) Iowa Council 61 approved terms of a memo of understanding with the state by a 59 percent margin of approval.

“That really gives us some breathing room to manage through this tough time,” the governor said of the AFSCME vote. “However, no one can say with certainty what’s going to happen in the future with respect to revenues.”

In announcing the results, AFSCME Council 61 president Danny Homan said members of Iowa’s largest state employees union have no plans to renegotiate terms of their current two-year contract after voting to accept concessions aimed at saving 479 state jobs.

AFSCME members voted 59 percent in favor and 41 percent opposed to an understanding with the state that requires them to take five unpaid days off and accept benefit reductions to stave off layoffs through next June 30.

“I will again state that we have absolutely no intention of reopening talks with the state of Iowa on any of these issues for the remainder of our current contract,” which runs through June 30, 2011,” Homan said. “State workers have exhausted their options for what they can do to balance the state’s budget for the people of Iowa.”

Culver said the willingness of union workers to share in the sacrifices needed to keep the current fiscal year budget balanced gives him and state lawmakers time to consider cost-saving initiatives, an early-retirement option and other belt-tightening measures in crafting a fiscal 2011 budget.

“I hope he’s right. I really hope that we don’t have to revisit the contract,” Culver said. “This is a great example of shared sacrifice between management and the union and not every state has been able to do that.”

Similar concessions previously were accepted by the State Police Officers Council, while members of the Iowa United Professionals rejected the proposed cuts in pay and benefits – which would have averted 55 layoffs of state workers in their bargaining unit.

Culver ordered a 10 percent across-the-board cut in state spending in October – a move designed to save nearly $600 million with the bulk coming through cuts totaling $565 million within executive-branch agencies. Initially, state agency plans called for laying off 791 state workers and eliminating 530 vacant positions but Culver accepted modifications that will hold overall layoffs below 300 jobs.

Senate Majority Leader Mike Gronstal, D-Council Bluffs, called the decision of state unionized employees to voluntarily sacrifice a portion of their wages and benefits “bittersweet.”

“The deepening national recession wasn’t caused by hard-working Iowans, but they are paying the price for the greed of Wall Street executives and multinational corporations,” he said. “It is unfortunate that AFSCME and SPOC members and other middle-class Iowans must now sacrifice their hard-fought earnings to clean up budget problems caused by a national and international economy that valued unchecked wealth over hard work, self-interest over sacrifice, and self-indulgence over responsibility.”

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