Iowa union agrees to cuts to prevent layoffs

AP News
Posted: Nov 30, 2009 5:27 PM

Iowa's largest state worker union has approved about $26 million in concessions in exchange for a promise of no immediate layoffs of its members, union leadership announced Monday.

Members of Council 61 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees voted 59 percent to 41 percent in favor of the concessions, which include taking off five unpaid days and giving up about $75 a month in retirement contributions.

In exchange, the state promises not to lay off 479 workers.

Gov. Chet Culver ordered a 10 percent across-the-board cut to offset plunging state tax revenues, and leaders in the state's three branches of government already had taken measures to reduce the current year's budget.

AFSCME was the second of the state's three unions to reach a deal to reduce spending. Even with the agreements, plans to lay off 109 state employees were already being drawn up Monday, said Erin Seidler, a spokeswoman for Culver.

Charlie Wishman, a spokesman for AFSCME, said the union leadership did not take a position on the proposal.

"The only position the council had on this vote was we wanted every one to be affected by it to have a say in it, to have a voice in controlling their own destiny," Wishman said.

The union represents about 20,000 state employees. An estimated 9,000 dues-paying members were eligible to vote; the union said 66 percent cast ballots.

In a statement released by AFSCME, president Danny Homan said it's now up to the state to balance its budget.

"We believe there are things that the state of Iowa can address as well, such as developing an early retirement program that works for the 2,700 state employees who would qualify," he said.

Homan also called on state government to begin enforcing a "span of control" rule that maintains there should be one supervisor for every 14 employees.

Wishman said it's clear that isn't happening.

"It's not uniform across state government," he said.

He said based on current employment levels, "span of control" is fewer than one supervisor for fewer than 7 employees, indicating a top-heaviness in the state's management structure.

AFSCME's agreement follows a similar one reached last week with the State Police Officers Council. That group represents about 640 Iowa law enforcement officers, including state troopers, gaming agents, fire inspectors, park rangers and special agents with the Division of Criminal Investigation.

Talks were halted earlier this month with the Iowa United Professionals, which represents about 2,700 workers, most of whom are social workers in the Department of Human Services.

A telephone message left for union officials Monday was not immediately returned, but Seidler said 37 of the union's members would be laid off.

An additional 72 non-contract positions also will be eliminated, she said.

The Department of Corrections will take the brunt of the cuts, with 68 jobs being eliminated, followed by the Department of Human Services with 10, according to a spreadsheet outlining the layoffs.

The goal, Seidler said, is to complete the layoffs by Jan. 1.

She also said the number of layoffs could change as a result of the AFSCME agreement.

"Departments are now able to recalculate their budgets in light of today's agreement," she said.