More furloughs,more layoffs for state workers

State workers, who already have been ordered to take three days off each month without pay, got more unpleasant news Tuesday: The Schwarzenegger administration is considering laying off some 2,000 more state employees. That brings the potential layoff total thus far to 7,000, up from the 5,000 level that had been announced in May.

The likelihood of increased layoffs was disclosed Tuesday in a conference call to the employees’ unions.

The action marks the latest in a series of setbacks for the 235,000-member state workforce. Through executive orders of the governor, state workers are expected to take off three Fridays of every month through June 30, 2010. The furlough days, 36 unpaid days a year, amount to about a 14 percent pay cut.

Exempt from these furloughs are California Highway Patrol officers, the Public Utilities Commission, California Fire, the state auditor’s office and the legislative counsel’s office, among others.

 After exemptions, about 210,000 employees are actually affected by the furloughs, said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the state Department of Personnel Administration.

July 10 was the first Friday Furlough after the new fiscal year, which began July 1. Ed Hass, a current staff services analyst for the Department of Corrections, is one of the many California state workers who is struggling to keep up with payments on his mortgage and bills because of that extra furlough day.

“It’s been tough as far as laying down the mortgage. And those bills don’t go down because your salary goes down,” said Hass. “A lot of state workers are in grave danger of facing foreclosure. I don’t think that making people homeless is the way to save the budget.”

Hass, who lives with his wife and son in Elk Grove, was informed in May that he was in threat of being laid off. He has since found another job through a lateral transfer with the Board of Equalization, which is not subject to furloughs and will keep his current pay.  

“A lot of people demonize state workers: there’s a perception that we are overpaid, lazy and take limos to work. I take the light rail,” said Hass.

Hass has been working at the Board of Corrections in Sacramento since February 2008. Previously, he worked at Intel, which he said used to pay almost double of what his current job pays: $2,100 with the furlough days.

“How do you support three people in that?” Hass said.

These three furlough days are not the only thing threatening state workers pay. The possible 5 percent cut in the budget, though rejected by the joint legislative budget committee in June, still has a possibility to go through since California does not yet have a budget, said Jolley.

“Every day that they wait, the budget deficit gets bigger, so the options get more limited. Things that they may not want to do today, they may change their mind about tomorrow,” said Jolley.

The Republican governor issued the executive order, which allowed him to implement the third furlough day due to the state of emergency with the budget deficit, which would move all bargaining to after the fact, said Jolley. These furlough days will save the state $120 million of the $26.3 billion deficit, said Service Employees International Union Local 1000 spokesperson Jim Zamora.

Zamora said that Schwarzenegger disregarded SEIU’s bargaining negotiations and has treated state workers unfairly.

“It’s unfair to change the rules when bargaining with someone,” said Zamora. “He hasn’t kept his word, and has repeatedly used state workers as pawns. The money that he is saving with the furloughs is not going to come close to filling the deficit.”

Another fourth furlough day implemented by the governor, with each day being a 5 percent cut itself, would bring total salary cuts to twenty percent.

“During these unprecedented financial times, state worker compensation will be reduced but a sudden and immediate 20 percent reduction to a family’s monthly income is too much,” Sen. Dave Cox, R-Fair Oaks, said in a July 9 statement released by his office.
Jolley said that furlough days are not necessarily “pay cuts” in workers compensation.  

“It’s not a pay cut, it’s a reduction in the amount of hours that employees work. The pay scales are not changed, just that [state employees] are going to get paid fewer hours,” said Jolley, who is also subject to furlough Fridays herself.

Because of Friday furloughs, some facilities are forced to close due to lack of employees, such as all Department of Motor Vehicles facilities throughout the state.

A number of 24-hour facilities, such as state penitentiaries, are on self-directed furlough schedule, which allows for the facility to schedule their own three furlough days instead of observing the designated Fridays. These days can also be rolled-over to other months, as long as they are served by June 30, 2012—24 months after the furlough period ends.  

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