24 April 2013

State warns workers of potential layoffs as massive federal cuts trickle down

Story originally appeared on Freep.

LANSING -- Much has been reported about federal employees, including up to 8,000 defense industry workers, whose jobs are likely to be affected -- perhaps even lost -- because of the federal sequester.

But the impact of the deep, across-the-board spending cuts mandated by the sequester is beginning to trickle down to state employees, too.

To prepare for the inevitable cuts in federal money coming in to Michigan, estimated to be up to $150 million, state officials are developing plans on how to cut their budgets, including potential layoffs of state employees.

The Office of the State Employer sent notices earlier this month to all department and agency directors, and the unions representing state employees, letting them know that layoffs may be a consequence of the $85-billion in federal budget cuts.

"Plans are being developed to quickly bring spending in line with anticipated revenues ... which may include indefinite layoff of employees due to lack of funds, reduction in spending authorization," the letter to unions said. "These plans may also include temporary layoffs due to unanticipated loss of funding."

The layoffs, if they happen, would begin sometime after April 8, the letter said.

The state is required to send such notices to union leadership 30 days before any layoff occurs. No layoff letters will be sent to individual employees until the departments develop their plans by the end of this month, said Lauren Leeds of the state Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

Employees are required to get at least 14 days' notice of an impending layoff.

"As required by the contracts with the unions, we had to notify them that layoffs may occur, but it may not necessarily happen," Leeds said. "It's all still up in the air. Information is coming in very slowly from the federal government."

Some departments could be hit harder than others. Federal dollars represent 65% of the Department of Community Health's budget. The Department of Transportation gets about $1 billion a year from Washington. And a big chunk of the Department of Human Services' budget comes from the federal coffers.

"But we don't know yet which, if any, employees will get layoff notices," said Kurt Weiss, spokesman for Gov. Rick Snyder.

Phil Patrick, executive vice president for Service Employees International Union Local 517M, which represents about 4,000 state employees, said the letter is a bit unsettling. But he also said he realizes it was an obligation of the state to provide notice to the unions.

"Obviously, they have to look at all their operating costs," he said. "But we hope it won't affect many employees."

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