WisBusiness: State union chief sees ‘significant layoffs’ ahead

By Joanne Haas

Agencies will close and services will be lost. That was the prediction Thursday from the executive director of the Wisconsin State Employees Union, Marty Beil. Beil sees big-time problems surfacing as Gov. Jim Doyle works toward his goal of reducing state government by 10,000 workers in 8 years.

“If he (Doyle) is successful at eliminating 10,000, agencies will disappear, institutions will disappear,” Marty Beil said. “If he is successful, we will see wholesale closures, and the discontinuation of a lot of state services.”

Beil, whose union represents about 25,000 workers, says the problem is there aren’t a lot of vacancies or potential retirements to keep up with the governor’s reductions. “I expect given his relentless pursuit of dismantling state employment, we will see significant layoffs,” Beil said of the 2005-07 budget, now in the early stages of development.

Not so, said Karen Timberlake, the state’s lead negotiator.

“The governor is committed to streamlining state government and preserving core services,” Timberlake said, adding each agency is examining their programs to determine where duplications or other factors may allow for worker reductions without harming services and key functions. “Agencies are being urged to be strategic.”

Timberlake also said workers should remember the governor wants to accomplish this reduction without layoffs — meaning vacancies caused by retirements or resignations could stay vacant.

“As people separate from state service, that does create a pool of vacancies. And we always have some turnover every year.”

And she said some vacancies cannot be held open due to the nature of the job.

Beil, however, disagrees with the governor’s opinion the reduction in state government can be accomplished without seriously affecting service delivery. Who might take the hardest hits? Beil predicts more significant cuts for the already sliced Department of Natural Resources, Corrections, University of Wisconsin System, some smaller agencies, as well as services to the mentally ill and developmentally challenged

Doyle reaffirmed his allegiance to his campaign promise to reduce the state workforce. “As I said, I am going to continue to make sure we are decreasing the size of the state workforce,” Doyle said. The target goal of approximately 2,300 was met in this biennial budget. “I’m sure there are going to be substantial cuts in this budget as well. But we will do it in a lot more organized fashion.”

Organized or otherwise, Beil sees it as a march toward “decimation.”

Timberlake said there is no target number yet developed for workforce reduction for the next biennium as agency budget work is under way.

Meanwhile, there’s nothing new on the contract negotiations for 2003-05 agreements regarding the five remaining Wisconsin State Employee Union units without deals.

“Bargaining is at a standstill,” Beil said. “We’re still in hiatus.”

So far, Beil said Doyle’s push to reduce state employee ranks has had some effect on negotiations, but he expects it to have more impact as time moves on. Beil’s units, along with the UW-Madison Teaching Assistants Association, are among the 11 pending. The TAA contract hit an impasse earlier this spring, and remains as such as the school year ended a few weeks ago.

Timberlake said the state is always interested in continuing the talks, and there are informal discussions with some units. “There is no sense of urgency,” she says, adding part of that is because the Legislature is not in session. That means the chance for legislative review and approval may have to wait until the new session starts in January.

In general, the approved contracts contain a three-tier health benefit program and no wage change for the first year followed by a 1 percent general wage increase in the second year, plus 10 cents per hour. Eight contracts have been approved.