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Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

Jon Ortiz

The State Worker: An ode to furloughs

Published: Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013 - 12:00 am | Page 3A
Last Modified: Thursday, Jul. 25, 2013 - 6:35 am

It's the end of an era.

After more than four years of on-and-off furloughs, most state workers' Aug. 1 paychecks for July will show full hours and pay for the first time since last summer.

Given the moment, here are a few facts and observations as we bid adiós to the odious Furlough Age:

• State furloughs' end coincided with a July 1 pay raise for top-step state employees. The changes will together add about $1 billion to state payroll in 2013-14. (Although at an estimated $15.3 billion, it's still slightly less than two years ago.)

Most state workers who qualify for the raise get a 3 percent bump, intended to offset higher pension payments put in place a few years ago. Some contracts call for a bit more, some a bit less.

Add back 4.62 percent from expired furloughs, and the majority of employees' checks gain about 8 percent.

• Some readers have called, emailed and made online comments that ending furloughs is a "raise" for state workers. It's not.

Ending furloughs restores workers to regular hours and pay. Calling that a raise is like telling someone who takes off an eye patch that they have an extra eye.

• Furlough fights have cost the state more than $1.5 million so far in contracts with two law firms, according to new figures from the Department of Human Resources.

At one point, more than 40 furlough lawsuits coursed through state and federal courts from Los Angeles to San Francisco to Sacramento.

• One last furlough fight remains. Brown has asked a San Francisco appellate court to overturn a trial court decision that the governor furloughed 13,000 engineers and scientists two days longer than the law allowed. A few hundred others, the same trial judge said, shouldn't have been furloughed at all.

If Brown loses this last battle, the state faces an estimated $12 million in back wages to make those employees whole.

And no, state workers won't have to work for the money if they win.

• Some employees – especially those at prisons, state hospitals and other chronically understaffed 24/7 facilities – still have furlough time on the books. Although they were supposed to take time off each month, their employers needed them at work.

As of April 1, the last date for which Department of Human Resources data are available, about 24,000 state workers carried about 1.4 million furlough hours on the books. That's an average of seven days owed to each employee.

• The furlough policy mandates burning furlough hours before taking paid leave, such as vacation time. That prodded many employees to forgo paid time off and bank the leave.

Those hours have value, adding untold millions of dollars in deferred costs for the government when state workers cash out at their final wages.

So while paychecks may say furloughs are over, the impact will last for years.

Call The Bee's Jon Ortiz, (916) 321-1043. Follow him on Twitter @thestateworker and read his blog, The State Worker.

© Copyright The Sacramento Bee. All rights reserved.

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About The State Worker

Jon Ortiz The Author

Jon Ortiz launched The State Worker blog and a companion column in 2008 to cover state government from the perspective of California government employees. Every day he filters the news through a single question: "What does this mean for state workers?" Join Ortiz for updates and debate on state pay, benefits, pensions, contracts and jobs. Contact him at (916) 321-1043 and at jortiz@sacbee.com.

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Note: The State Worker blog switched blog platforms in October 2013. All posts after the switch are found here. Older posts are available using the list below.


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