September 29, 2010

Legislative budget writers get earful on failed furlough scheme

House budget writers held a hearing today to see how furloughs are going but instead got a fact-based earful from the three largest unions affected.
Federation Executive Director Greg Devereux said many of the damaging outcomes predicted by the unions “have come to fruition” – and it’s hurting the state and the taxpayers who more and more depend on those services in these tough times.

Take overtime caused by furloughs.

Devereux said the union and a newspaper pressed the state for overtime data to see if there was a connection. The largest agency, the Department of Social and Health Services, initially reported to the press it had only incurred 48 hours of overtime in July.

“We questioned that number and yesterday we were informed that the actual overtime number was 9,742 hours,” Devereux said. “So we believe furloughs have had some impact on that number.”

The hearing on furloughs came before the House Ways and Means Committee.

Devereux said furlough-caused overtime was hidden in a number of other ways, such as: increasing part-time workers to full-time; increasing the number of part-time temporaries; hiring Washington Management Service and exempt staff to do field work; and granting overtime or exchange time when not linked directly to furlough days.

He told the budget panel that in the Department of Corrections, records and clerical staff were furloughed – and Community Corrections officers told to stay in their offices and answer the phones.

“Meanwhile, their caseloads of felons were unseen on furlough days,” Devereux said. “To us, that is a ticking time bomb.”

Elsewhere, maintenance workers had to be brought back from furlough because their physical plants could not run without them, he said.

Furloughs cut a day of work, but not a day of workload, he said.

“As layoffs grow, work expectations remain high and many portions of state government have untenable workloads,” Devereux said.

Furloughs also “disproportionately harmed” the 25 percent of state employees not exempted from furloughs.

The mantra on furloughs and other takeaways is that “everything is on the table.”

If so, said Devereux, lawmakers should target the 154 tax breaks totaling $3 billion granted by the Legislature in the past 10 years instead of the $38 million supposedly saved by furloughs.

Without an attempt to recoup those billions instead of millions, Devereux said, “in essence we are saying we care more about tax breaks for the few while services for the many go wanting.”

Furloughs really do hurt, he said.

“Furloughs, added to substantial health care cuts, added to layoffs, are destroying the quality state workforce,” Devereux said. “When the economy rebounds, those public service workers left standing may very well abandon state government and jump to the private sector to recover what they have lost.”

Also testifying with Devereux were representatives from the Teamsters and SEIU 1199 Northwest.

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