Update: According to a joint press release between the unions and the University of Maine System, “The shortfall associated with the curtailment of state appropriation and the original net investment loss which emerged late in 2008 has largely been addressed for six of the seven universities through other cost reductions.” The press release does not state what the cost reductions are, or how much of a budget gap remains. It goes on to say, “While new financial challenges … must still be addressed, the circumstances that gave rise to the furlough proposal have changed, resulting in this joint decision. The University System will continue to meet these challenges while minimizing any impact to employees.”
The $15.1 million system-wide budget gap was a result of budget curtailment at the state level, accounting for $8.4 million, and investment losses, $6.7 million.
The remaining school with a budget shortfall is University of Maine Fort Kent, although it is possible the University of Southern Maine will encounter new financial difficulties.
“We made a conscious decision to shift the focus away from personnel reductions,” said Robert Caswell, a spokesperson for USM. By reducing purchases at the library, cutting back on maintenance and reducing the travel budget, USM was able to almost completely fill its $2.7 million gap. USM was facing the most severe gap, and would have suffered 70 of the 100 layoffs had the gap not been addressed.
According to Rebecca Wyke, a spokesperson for the system, “We have done a tremendous job finding alternatives” to laying off employees. There have been layoffs already that were in the pipeline before the furlough days were proposed, which would have blocked layoffs until July 1. There are already layoffs planned for fiscal years 2009 and 2010.
In addition, a number of senior staff at universities and at the system level have agreed to work five days without pay. These staff, including the chancellor, vice chancellors and presidents of all seven universities, will have one day’s worth of pay deducted from their paycheck each month from February until June. A number of senior staff both at the system level and at individual universities have come forward and offered to do the same.
Original article:University of Maine System Chancellor Richard Pattenaude and all the system union presidents agreed to withdraw proposals for furlough days, according to an e-mail sent to union members.
System and union officials are unable to comment due to negotiation laws, but a joint press released is expected later today. It is unknown if another agreement has been reached or if this will affect layoffs.
Furlough days, or unpaid vacation days, were originally proposed as a cost-cutting measure to prevent layoffs. The system is facing a $15 million budget gap, which it must close by June 30 of this year. Under the proposal, which would have saved an estimated $1.2 million, classified staff, such as custodians, would have been most affected because they are most likely to be laid off first. An earlier e-mail to members of COLT, a union representing classified staff, warned that if the proposal were to be rejected, up to 100 classified staff were likely to be laid off.
The proposal required every “regularly funded” classified and unrepresented professional employee take two furlough days before the end of the fiscal year. Unrepresented professional employees include deans, vice presidents and department directors. In addition, several senior system employees, including the chancellor and vice chancellors, and all seven presidents would be required to take five furlough days.
Some faculty members have spoken out against furlough days, saying that other options have not been fully explored. Other options include delaying cost of living increases and paychecks so they fall on the next fiscal year, which, although such actions would not solve the problem, would help buy time to find a better solution.
In an e-mail to union members, James Bradley, president of COLT, wrote, “In exchange for agreeing to the furlough days, UMS has agreed not to implement any further layoffs . between now and June 30.” If all three unions did not agree to furlough days and the proposal therefore did not pass, the system would lay off up to 100 staff members, mostly hourly employees.
According to Bradley, hourly employees require little to no severance pay and only four weeks’ notice, whereas professional staff, who are paid salary, require six-month notice and severance, and faculty can not be laid off before July 1.
“We simply have no choice but to accept the proposal,” Bradley said.
The system also agreed to offer early retirement to certain employees who have worked at least 20 years. It is unclear whether this agreement was affected.
At a press conference on Monday, Pattenaude addressed the issue of furlough days.
“Through the curtailment and continuing decline of investment income, endowment income and some tightening up of enrollment, there are shortfalls that have to be attended to balance this year’s budget . nobody wants to do this. We’re asking for furloughs because [the presidents and affected campuses] don’t want to have to turn to layoffs to balance this year’s budget. Furloughs give us some flexibility in the short term to make more strategic decisions,” Pattenaude said.
Heather Steeves and Dylan Riley contributed to this report.