OLYMPIA, Wash. - Don't be surprised if you call a Washington state
agency today and get voicemail instead of a human. After Independence
Day, it's the second three-day weekend in a row for employees of most
Washington state agencies, boards and commissions. As part of
cost-cutting measures, this is the first mandatory unpaid furlough day
for the state, although many of the workers don't see it as a bonus day
Washington Federation of State Employees President Carol
Dotlich says some feel like they're being set up for problems on their
jobs, with heavy workloads because of layoffs and cutbacks and now, even
less time to catch up.
"The taxpayers should be mad as hell for the lack of services, that
state employees will be unable to provide. And the state employees will
then be made to look incompetent, which they are not, simply because of
the circumstances they're placed under."
The furlough law includes some exemptions, for certain public safety,
health and revenue-generating activities. But union leader Dotlich, who
is a central supply supervisor at Western State Hospital in Tacoma, says
there's been some confusion about exactly who is exempt, which has left
workers frustrated. She thinks their attitude about unpaid time off
might have been more positive, had the state handled it differently.
"I think if they had asked for volunteers, you may have seen that, in
areas where people could do that without harming the public and without
increasing an already severe backlog of work. But the way this is being
implemented, people are appalled by it."
The state estimates ten scheduled furlough days in the next year will
save $48 million. The union says the state is also paying more overtime
to some workers and losing federal matching dollars as a result of the
furloughs. The union had filed a court injunction last week to try to
stop the furloughs, but it was rejected. However, a lawsuit is pending.