The month-long standoff between Governor Donald Carcieri '65 and state employee unions over his plan to meet budget cut requirements may soon be over.
After weeks of negotiations, union members have begun to vote on a proposal to save $36 million by making all public employees work without pay for eight days this year and four days next year. The plan under consideration would also delay a promised 3 percent pay raise for six months.
In return, no layoffs will be made for the next two years. Workers will be compensated at retirement and receive additional leave days.
When Carcieri's original plan to send nonessential state workers home for 12 days of the year without pay was put on hold by the state Supreme Court last month, Carcieri threatened layoffs and began negotiating a new plan with the unions.
The largest of the unions, Council 94 of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, expects to have members' votes in today, said Council President Michael Downey. Members of the second largest union, the Rhode Island Alliance of Social Service Employees, Local 580, approved the proposal by a 2-to-1 margin, according to the union's Web site.
The agreement represents a major piece of Carcieri's overall plan to make $67.8 million in state budget cuts in the face of soaring unemployment and declining tax revenue.
The state of Rhode Island currently employs about 13,000 workers, said Amy Kempe, a spokeswoman for the governor.
Union leaders had to approve the agreement before other members vote on it.
Initially, the unions thought they could strike a better deal by prolonging the negotiations, Downey said. But after the governor "went on TV to say there was no chance," the union moved ahead with the vote, he said.
If the proposal is passed, it will be implemented immediately, Kempe said.
Both Downey and Joseph Peckham, acting executive director of Council 94, support the plan but declined to predict how the union's members would vote.
The union's staff has been working hard for the last few days to provide members with sufficient information on the proposal, Peckham said.
"As a democratic organization, we felt that the union members had the right to vote," Downey said. "No more layoffs, no more shut down days. ... That is good to know in a difficult economy."