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State, union at a stalemate.

Byline: David Steves The Register-Guard

SALEM - Oregon government, in search of big labor-cost savings to help balance the coming biennium's budget, has declared an impasse in its stalled contract talks with its biggest public employees union.

The state and the union's 18,000 members are far apart on how many unpaid furlough days workers should take off, and whether pay should be frozen and, in some instances, reduced.

Department of Administrative Services spokesman Lonn Hoklin said his agency will notify the state Employment Relations Board early next week of the impasse.

"We've had many days of bargaining and mediation and there are still many unresolved issues," Hoklin said.

After the impasse notice is given, both sides will have seven days to submit their final offers, a step that's followed by a 30-day cooling-off period. When that period ends in mid-July, the state could unilaterally implement its final offer. All the existing contracts in question expire on June 30.

According to the Service Employees International Union Local 503, the state is pushing for a two-year pay freeze, with no cost-of-living adjustment and no "step" increase for workers who are not already at the top of their pay scales.

The administration of Gov. Ted Kulongoski also wants workers to accept 10 to 24 furlough days, the exact number determined by employees' salary ranges. Those who work in institutions, such as prisons and the state mental hospital, would take a pay cut in lieu of unpaid furlough days.

The union has proposed eight furlough days over two years, and agreed to forego a cost-of-living raise. But it opposes freezing "step" increases or revoking an added step increase for workers who otherwise would be at the top of their pay scale.

Neither side has proposed reducing retirement or medical benefits. Currently, the state pays the full cost of health premiums and workers make co-payments for doctor's office and hospital visits.

Kermit Meling, chairman of the union's state bargaining team, called the state's decision that talks were at an impasse a negotiating tactic meant to start the clock so it could impose its final offer. He said the union and state negotiators would meet Monday with a mediator and expected progress to continue.

"We're still going to be crafting proposals and bargaining in good faith. We're not by any means done with our bargaining proposals," said Meling, an Oregon Department of Transportation motor carrier enforcement officer out of Portland.

The impending impasse between the Department of Administrative Services and the SEIU does not directly affect the union's 3,500 members who work for the Oregon University System, including at the University of Oregon.

Those workers' bargaining unit is on a later timeline. Its ground rules with the state higher education system call for health benefits and some pay elements to mirror what the larger bargaining unit agrees to with the state. But they are bargaining separately on step increases and furlough days, said Marc Nisenfeld, chairman of the university system's unionized workers' group.

The union has filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the university system for what the union considers a proposed 4.6 percent across-the-board pay cut. The union said the university system also has proposed suspending step increases for two years and is seeking new contract language allowing it to implement unpaid furloughs without bargaining, he said. It has proposed freezing workers' pay, too.

Jay Kenton, the university system's vice chancellor for finance and administration, said it has not made any specific proposals over pay, but is seeking reductions on par with the state contract with non-university union workers.

Nisenfeld, an engineer at Portland State University, said the union is willing to bargain over unpaid furlough days and to go without a cost-of-living raise, but thinks the state is asking for excessive pay concessions.
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Title Annotation:City/Region; The two fail to agree on how many unpaid furlough days workers should take, and whether their pay should be cut
Publication:The Register-Guard (Eugene, OR)
Date:Jun 6, 2009
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