BANGOR, Maine — Leaders of the five unions associated with the University of Maine System are considering a furlough plan that the system’s hourly employees hope will stave off layoffs.
The plan would mean all University of Maine System employees would take two unpaid furlough days by June 30, a savings that amounts to $1.8 million, according to Jim Bradley, the state president of ACSUM, the union that represents around 1,000 clerical staff in the UMaine System.
ACSUM stands for Associated C.O.L.T. Staff of the Universities of Maine, with C.O.L.T. standing for Clerical, Office, Laboratory and Technical Unit.
The $1.8 million is significant because it covers the remaining shortfalls at all seven campuses for the rest of the fiscal year, which would clear the system under Gov. John Baldacci’s curtailment order, Bradley added.
Bradley, a Mechanic Falls resident who works for USM’s Lewiston-Auburn College, said the leadership of ACSUM already has approved the furlough plan that will affect around 1,000 clerical workers.
Bradley, who recently was appointed to Chancellor Richard Pattenaude’s task force on transforming the University of Maine System, said he believes his union will vote in favor of furloughs.
“I’m cautiously optimistic that our members will approve it,” he said. “The reality is, if it’s rejected it’s the hourly employees that will be laid off, not the faculty. So we don’t have a lot of choice.”
However, Bradley added, all of the unions would have to approve the two-day furlough. He said the leadership of AFUM, which is the faculty union, will make its decision today. If the faculty union leadership decides against the plan or cannot come up with an alternative, Bradley said, the system could withdraw the furlough proposal and lay off 100 hourly employees systemwide, including 70 at the University of Southern Maine.
UMS spokesman John Diamond said negotiations are ongoing with six collective bargaining units of the five unions. Pattenaude, Diamond added, believes layoffs are a worst-case scenario and haven’t been officially discussed.
“The issue of days off without pay is one of the proposals being discussed, but there have been no decisions made,” Diamond said. “The longer this goes without being resolved, the fewer options there are available, so there is a sense of urgency to bring closure to the discussion.”
Ron Mosley, the AFUM president and a professor at the University of Maine at Machias, could not be reached for comment.
Hourly workers are likely be laid off first, Bradley added, because they require the shortest amount of time for notification of layoffs and the least amount of severance pay.
The other unions are the Universities of Maine Professional Staff Association, the Teamsters, which have separate bargaining agreements each for security workers and maintenance workers, and the Maine Part-Time Faculty Association.
If all the unions are in favor of furloughs, the unions will send out ballots to their members, who will vote on the plan. The results apply to all employees regardless of union membership.
If the furlough plan goes through, employees can set their own furlough schedule as long as the off days fall before June 30.
Meanwhile, the task force of which Bradley is a member, which was formed as part of Pattenaude’s “New Challenges, New Directions: Achieving Long-Term Financial Stability” plan, met for the first time on Feb. 4 in Augusta. The meeting was for organizational purposes and not a public hearing. Public meetings will be held at a later date.