COLUMBUS, Ohio — Gov. Mike DeWine is asking the state’s union employees to come to the table to talk about potential pay cuts or a wage freeze to help patch a projected $2.5 billion hole that the coronavirus-related economic shutdown has punched through the state budget.
The alternative could be employee layoffs and more cuts to K-12 schools, the Republican governor said.
“We’re trying to be as transparent and open with our employees as we are with the people of Ohio,” he said this week. “The amount of money, the chunk of money set aside for the employees looking at that (3 percent) raise, that money’s not going to be there.
“It’s always a balance of having fewer employees….,” Mr. DeWine said. “You’ve got to pick up those dollars somehow.”
The governor has asked the unions for suggestions by June 15.
The Ohio Civil Service Employees Association represents about 30,000 public workers, most of them at the state level. There are also unions representing about 1,400 troopers and other employees at the highway patrol, about 660 state educators and librarians, and about 580 police, park, forest, and other state agency officers.
“It’s frustrating that we’ve essentially put our lives on the line and our families’ lives on the line during the pandemic, and now we’re being asked to give up more,” OCSEA President Chris Mabe said. “We’ve had four prison employees who’ve died since the onset of the pandemic. Our families have fought contagion.”
Mr. Mabe is a corrections sergeant at the Lorain Correctional Institution. His wife, also an employee at the prison, has battled coronoavirus and has been off work since April.
“Our members have made huge sacrifices,” he said. “Over the last 30 days, we’ve been called heroes and now they’re mandating us to the table to get concessions and cuts that we’ve done so many times in the past. Enough is enough. There’s no more to give. They’ve cut thousands of jobs over the last four years.”
The proposed union talks follow the recent announcement of his budget director, Kimberly Murnieks, that supervisory and other nonunion employees must take 10 days of unpaid leave in the next fiscal year beginning July 1. That essentially translates into a 3.8-percent pay cut. Cabinet directors face a 4-percent pay cut.
The state is also continuing an existing hiring freeze.
Combined, these efforts are projected to save the state about $138.2 million, according to the Office of Budget and Management. While some private-sector workers temporarily furloughed for days at a time as a result of coronavirus shutdowns are eligible for unemployment compensation, state employees will not be eligible to collect unemployment compensation for the mandatory 10 days of unpaid leave.
Union workers are in the middle of a three-year contract that entitles them to a 3-percent raise next fiscal year after raises of 2.75 percent in each of the prior two years. In the wake of the Great Recession of 2008, state union workers went six years without pay raises.
“We can’t print money in Ohio,” Mr. DeWine said. “We have to balance the budget. We intend to do that. We also have other obligations. Schools took a hit… We certainly do not want to cut schools again. These are all choices that we have to make. Families across Ohio are making tough, tough choices.”
Mr. DeWine has already imposed about $775 million in cuts to K-12 schools, colleges and universities, and across much of the rest of the state budget for the last two months of the current fiscal year ending June 30.
Additional cuts for the next fiscal year are expected to be made by state lawmakers in coming weeks.
The governor has so far been reluctant to touch the state’s budgetary reserves, which have been built up to more than $2.7 billion thanks to budget surpluses over the last decade.
“If this isn’t the time to use it, I don’t know when is….,” Mr. Mabe said. “What is the apprehension in getting into the fund? It’s raining. It’s storming. That is what the fund was established for.”
Senate President Larry Obhof (R., Medina) said there are no plans under way to undo legislative pay raises enacted last year. He noted the state constitution prohibits lawmakers from adjusting their own compensation mid-term. There are also no immediate plans to cut the pay of Senate staff.
He noted that the Senate recently return 24 percent of its operating budget to help with the state’s fiscal situation.