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Unions’ dilemma on layoffs: to compromise or not?

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• In California, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger implemented a mandatory policy of two furlough days a month policy for many state workers, which unions opposed. They sued to stop the program and lost, though they are appealing the decision. Governor Schwarzenegger also won a lawsuit that gives him the right to cut state workers’ wages to the federal minimum wage when lawmakers can’t pass a budget on time. In response, the Service Employees International Union (SEIU) Local 1000, which represents some 95,000 state workers, recently cut a deal with the state involving numerous concessions in the hope of avoiding layoffs or worse concessions.

• In Detroit, the mayor has asked unions to agree to a 10-percent pay cut or face major layoffs – a request local unions are balking at granting.

• In Oregon, the local SEIU chapter actually approached the governor with a list of concessions – including a wage freeze for two years and eight unpaid furlough days this year. The state has since determined those cuts won’t be enough, and is asking the union for more. Negotiations resumed this week.

“We thought, ‘We get it, the economy is bad,’ and we thought we’d do something to preempt it,” says Kermit Meling, a transportation worker who chairs the bargaining committee for SEIU Local 503. “We thought we were fairly close, and then we got blindsided by them coming back and wanting to take a lot more.”

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