Maine DOT Chief Aims to Cut Work Force, Save $10 Million a Year

Thu February 05, 2004 - National Edition

PORTLAND, ME (AP) Some highway workers are upset about a state Department of Transportation plan to save $10 million a year by revamping plowing and maintenance operations.

Carl Leinonen, executive director of the Maine State Employees Association, said transportation officials made a mistake by not negotiating the changes called for in state transportation Commissioner David A. Cole’s plan before they started to try to put them in place.

"There are some things there they can do on their own unilaterally," he said. "There are some things they have to negotiate with us first."

The MSEA sent Cole a "cease and desist" notice asking him to delay personnel moves until they are discussed with the union.

Cole is spearheading an effort to save Maine’s Department of Transportation $10 million a year and cut his work force more than 6 percent. He called the move the agency’s biggest reorganization in 50 years. It is part of Gov. John Baldacci’s mandate to increase government efficiency.

"We’re in an era when we’re not expecting a lot more dollars for roads and bridges," Cole said. "We have a responsibility to taxpayers to be as efficient as we can."

Approximately 1,500 Department of Transportation employees work in road maintenance operations, Cole said. His plan would eliminate 150 jobs in the department’s Bureau of Maintenance and Operations over the next decade and save $50 million over the next six years. The bureau has a $134 million budget.

The money saved will be invested in the state’s roads and bridges over a six-year period, Cole said.

Cole has pledged not to lay off any employees. But union leaders say he violated state law, and their contracts, by moving to make changes before consulting them or negotiating. Some highway workers already have received notice of changes in their jobs and pay.

"We looked at the history of attrition in our organization and we feel we can do it through attrition," Cole said. "But where it takes us is where it takes us. It may be converting people’s jobs ... into work in other areas."

He said most of the people in the maintenance bureau made their views known as part of the process.

"We got a lot of input from our folks. They wanted change. But change is a two-edged sword. It makes a lot of people nervous," Cole said. "But most of the ideas came from within the organization itself. Now we can reach outside for innovation in our operations."