State budget: turmoil in the work place

Even with the budget on its way to a floor vote, state workers’ worries are not yet over.

Three furlough days are in affect for workers until the end of the fiscal year on June 30, 2010, although the proposed 5 percent cut in salaries is not a part of the budget agreement.

 Besides furloughs, layoffs and elimination of positions throughout the state are hitting employees hard.

Announced in May, 5,000 state positions were to be eliminated, while last week another 2,000 were added to that original number.

These positions are not necessarily all layoffs but some may be vacant positions that will be eliminated from state departments.  

“Departments will review their vacancies and decide which ones will be permanently eliminated,” said Lynelle Jolley of the Department of Personnel Administration. “Then they will decide how many layoffs they need to achieve to meet their total reduction target.”

The three furlough days will save the state $1.3 billion from the general fund for the 2009-2010 fiscal year that began July 1. The 2008-2009 fiscal year, which only had two furlough days, saved the state $450 million from the general fund, said Jolley.

With the total elimination of 7,000 positions however, some state workers are already dealing with the repercussions.

Deanna Regale is an office technician at Wasco State Prison in Kern County. She had been working there for 13 months when she received her final notice in May that she would be getting laid off.  

“They told me not to look for work in the Department of Corrections because I would just get laid off again,” said Regale. “That doesn’t leave me much choice in Kern County.”

Regale said that her husband was also laid off from his job in December from granite construction. Moving out of the area is not an option for the couple since Regale takes care of her elderly mother who also lives in the area.

“I look for openings everyday online and that’s about all I can do right now, take it one day at a time,” she said.

Regale said the furlough days were having an impact on her groceries and gas money. Her layoff notice takes affect on Sept. 15, 120 days after she received it.

The cutoff for her department layoffs was a 15 month minimum though as of today, she has worked there for almost 17 months.
“If I have to, I’ll even go to McDonalds for a job. I need to pay the bills,” said Regale.

About 1,800 of the original 5,000 state worker positions are represented by Service Employees International Union local 1000, said Cindie Fonesca, a vocational instructor in the California Rehabilitation Center in Norco, California with the Department of Corrections.
Fonesca said that she does not think the layoffs will have a large fiscal impact on the budget deficit because of the extra work other employees will have to pick up.

“I don’t know why the state thinks its going to save them money, because when they lay those people off it’s just going to make others work overtime,” said Fonesca. “Most people who work [at the California Rehabilitation Center] can’t get their furlough days off because someone has to cover those shifts.”

The Department of Finance did not have figures at press time on how much layoffs or elimination of state positions would save the state.

SEIU will be meeting later this month with the Department of Personnel Administration to discuss how the new wave of layoffs will affect state workers which have not yet gone out to workers. SEIU also said that they were willing to work with the governor to find alternative saving methods.

In a July 16 Capitol Weekly article on furlough days, Jim Zamora of SEIU local 1000 said “It’s unfair to change the rules when bargaining with someone.[Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger] has not kept his word.”

In a recent interview, he said that SEIU local 1000 was willing to work with the governor on finding alternative savings methods for state workers besides layoffs and furloughs.

“Attorneys are reviewing our legal options with regard to mounting illegal challenge to provisions of the newly adopted budget deal that affects state employees,” said Zamora July 21.

State workers pension benefits will not be affected since pensions are currently not allowed to be re-negotiated. Furlough days also had no affect on pension benefits.

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