RALEIGH, N.C. — A union representing North Carolina state employees pushed back against potential pay cuts, layoffs and worker furloughs.
Nearly 100 members of the State Employees Association of North Carolina rallied in downtown Raleigh Tuesday morning to try drumming up opposition to mandatory furloughs.
The group says several bills in the General Assembly are asking for furloughs, and it fears Gov. Perdue's flexible furlough announcement last week will make them closer to a reality in coming years, especially as the recession increased the demand for public services.
"Families first and no furloughs – that's what we're fighting for today," April Graham, an 11-year- Department of Correction employee, said Tuesday outside the Legislative Building before meeting with lawmakers.
"My family has to eat. My family has to survive," she added. "I've got to have health care for my kids. So, come on, wake up and smell the coffee."
Perdue last week announced that all state workers, including herself, will see their annual pay cut a half percent in May and June in return for an extra 10 hours of time off later in the year.
Perdue said she took action because it's her responsibility to make sure the state's budget is balanced on June 30 when the fiscal year ends.
The pay cuts, she said, will save an estimated $65 million and help fill the gap left by an expected $3 billion-plus budget shortfall.
The SEANC said that although employees are unhappy with the half-percent pay cut, most workers realize the governor's decision is not up for debate.
But as state employees, like Stephanie Thompson, digested the pay cut, they wondered if it is just the beginning.
“A lot of people are discussing, 'What's the next step?' What will happen after the fiscal year is over,” said Thompson, who works for the state Department of Commerce.
House Majority Leader Hugh Holliman said while job preservation is a priority, there could be deeper pay cuts and possibly one furlough day a month in next fiscal year's budget.
"It could be more," Holliman, D-Davidson, said. "Certainly, we have to run the numbers and see how much money we have to come up with."
Perdue said Tuesday she is concerned the cuts are far from over.
"I have a real worry that by September, October, when the General Assembly goes home – unless things turn around quickly in this country – I may be doing Round 6 and 7 with more cuts with more hard decisions," she said.
That is not the message state workers hoped to hear.
“Like anybody else, I'm nervous,” Kathy Robinson, an employee at the state Department of Revenue, said. “You don't want to keep losing money, but you hope you have a job.”
The governor said last week she also planned to borrow $400 million of federal stimulus money designated for next year’s budget to balance the budget in the current year.
“She's created, by doing that, an additional $400 million hole (for the 2010 fiscal year) that will need to be resolved somehow,” Senate Minority Leader Phil Berger, R-Rockingham, pointed out.
Both sides of the aisle acknowledge deep cuts are inevitable.
“It's not gonna be easy,” Sen. David Hoyle, D-Gaston, chairman of the finance committee said. “It's gonna be very, very difficult and it's gonna be very painful for a lot of people."
Pam Pope has been a state employee for 25 years. “I worry about my job as well as others,” she said.
More details are expected as the budget process continues. It is in the state House, where leaders say it could be a month, if not longer, before they are in a position to vote on a plan..
The next fiscal year begins July 1.