LEWISTON, Maine — As the recession deepens and more people lose their jobs, some workers in Maine have voluntarily given up part of their pay to keep their colleagues from being laid off.
Tom Light, a sixth-grade teacher in West Paris, is among the more than 60 percent of the employees of School Administrative District 17 who agreed to sacrifice some income to make up for a budget shortfall and save seven jobs.
About 380 of the system’s 600 employees offered to either take time off without pay, or work but give some money back. Each person decided on an amount, ranging from $2 to $800.
Light agreed to give back a day’s pay, or approximately $275.
“It’s better for people to share in the burden, sort of the message that President Obama gave in his inaugural address,” Light said. “I think I’m lucky to have a job that pays well. (Sacrificing $275) feels like very little, frankly.”
Superintendent Mark Eastman, who feared taht he would have to lay off teaching assistants, a custodian and other support personnel mid-way through the school year, was delighted at how many volunteers came forward.
“It restores your faith in humankind,” Eastman said.
Other employers are trying to avert layoffs by freezing wages, requiring furlough days, cutting pay or hours and asking for workers to return part of their salaries.
The University of Maine System decided against furlough days for workers but froze wages for 59 senior administrators, saving $300,000. In addition, 37 senior administrators agreed to work up to five days without pay, saving $85,000.
L.L. Bean froze wages for employees and has offered early retirement to older workers in an effort to prevent 75 to 100 people from being laid off.
“Laying people off now seems to be the last resort, not the first choice,” said Laura Fortman, Maine Department of Labor commissioner.
Lewiston has proposed a wage freeze and a delay in scheduled raises for union members in order to save jobs. City Administrator Jim Bennett said the move would save hundreds of thousands of dollars and help maintain services for residents.
Bennett still needs approval from the six unions whose workers would be affected by the proposal to defer July 1 raises until early next year. He understands that the proposal had gotten a mixed reaction.
Still, at least one union said its members are willing to talk.
The Maine Association of Police has 49 local units statewide, including one in Lewiston, where members are considering the temporary wage freeze. Paul Gaspar, executive director of the statewide union, said his members are having similar conversations in a few cities, and he expects more as the year goes on.
“At the end of the day, these are the people that go home and face the same trials and tribulations as any taxpayer,” he said. “They are not unwilling to come to the table.”