As the Douglas Administration began the process of laying off 30 state workers ahead of an expected 400 more, the Legislature passed a joint resolution today to send the process to mediation. The House passed the Joint Resolution, JRH 26, calling for the administration and the Vermont State Employees Association to enter into a formal mediation process to resolve differences regarding state payroll savings. Since the beginning of the legislative season, the administration has said that the state needs to save an addition $17 million in payroll to help reduce the cost of state government. In the current fiscal year, the nonunion (exempt) state workforce has been reduce by 3.5 percent to 586 workers and nonunion workers have had their pay frozen, with those making over $60,000 taking a 5 percent pay cut. Meanwhile, the union workforce has been reduced 2.7 percent to 7,597 workers without any adjustments to pay or benefits.The Douglas Administration has the ability to lay off workers, but under the collective bargaining process it cannot change pay or benefits without the approval of the union. The state was expected to notify 30 workers today that they were being laid off, but the union has some ability to transfer those layoffs to other unionized workers. The administration has said it needs to lay off an additional 400 or so workers if a pay and benefit deal is not struck with the union.At the beginning of the session, Douglas said at least 600 state workers would need to be laid off. According to press reports, rank and file members of the five unionized bargaining units are themselves divided on the issue of whether to suffer the layoffs, or instead cut pay and benefits. The administration wants to reduce overall costs for future fiscal years rather than taking the union offer of just reducing costs in the next fiscal year, through furloughs and other one-time cost saving measures.Senate leaders, meanwhile, have offered up a couple of different plans as compromise to avoid layoffs, including furloughs for two years and some pay reductions of 3.5 percent. The administration’s non-layoff proposals have included a 5 percent wage cut and a health insurance premium increase from 20 percent to 30 percent. The Senate plan has included a cut in the number of communications positions within the Douglas Administration from 10 to five. There has been an on-going battle between the administration and the Legislature over these positions. Democratic legislators have seen these positions as part of the public relations machine for the administration. The Democrats see these cuts as a way for the administration to shoulder more of the pain. The administration has always bristled at the notion that these are just PR positions and instead insist that they perform the vital role of informing the public of what is happening in state government.The joint resolution calls for the mediation process to be completed no later than Tuesday, May 5. With two weeks left in the session and further revenue downgrades today, it is imperative that the Administration and the union find a way past the gridlock to find payroll savings, preferably without laying off workers, said Speaker Shap Smith. In these difficult times, we all must make difficult choices and I hope that, with a formal mediation process, the Administration and the State Employees Union can reach a compromise.