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RI gov, unions in tentative deal to stop shutdown

Gov. Don Carcieri and labor leaders have struck a tentative deal designed to help close a $68 million budget gap while keeping Rhode Island state government running without laying off 1,000 state workers, two labor leaders said Wednesday.
/ Source: The Associated Press

Gov. Don Carcieri and labor leaders have struck a tentative deal designed to help close a $68 million budget gap while keeping Rhode Island state government running without laying off 1,000 state workers, two labor leaders said Wednesday.

The compromise, reached around midnight Tuesday, would allow Carcieri to reassign state employees to different jobs, a sticking point in negotiations, said Philip Keefe, president of the Rhode Island Alliance of Social Service Employees Local 580. Unionized workers with more seniority would have greater protections against being moved than less experienced workers, he said.

The deal also includes an agreement that workers would be protected from layoffs until June 2011, said Frank Ciccone, business agent for Local 808 of the Laborers International Union of North America.

"Was everyone happy? No," said Ciccone, who is also a state senator. "It's something that we feel we might be able to live with."

A spokeswoman for Carcieri did not immediately return a phone message seeking comment

Keefe said he believes the compromise is good because it protects employees from layoffs and will keep government open for its citizens.

The plan must still be approved by thousands of union workers. About two dozen presidents of Council 94, the largest state employees' union, were meeting Wednesday to discuss whether to forward the proposal to their members for a vote, spokesman Jim Cenerini said.

Council 94 represents about 4,000 state workers, and its approval is key to any deal with the state.

Keefe said the terms of an earlier agreement remain intact. Under that plan, state workers would lose 12 days of pay between now and June 2011. They would also put off a planned pay raise. In return, they would get more vacation time and could get some lost pay back when they retire or leave their jobs.

That earlier agreement was struck two weeks ago but stalled over to what extent Carcieri could move people from one job to another.

Carcieri said last month that he would shut down state government because of the budget deficit. He said 80 percent of the state's 13,500-member workforce would stay home without pay for 12 days before July. But a judge put that plan on hold earlier this month after the union took it to court. After that, Carcieri said he would have no choice but to lay off 1,000 workers.

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Associated Press writers Michelle R. Smith in Providence and Eric Tucker in North Providence contributed to this report.