The State Worker

Chronicling civil-service life for California state workers

October 14, 2009
Senate report says furlough savings 'illusory' at 24/7 facilities

Senate office of oversight and outcomes logo.JPGThe Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes has released a report today that concludes furloughs are carrying a deferred cost for hospitals, prisons and other 24/7 state operations.

From a press release about the report:

In round-the-clock institutions, employees in positions that must be filled day and night are generally not taking off three days per month. Instead, while absorbing the 14% reduction in income, they are working furlough days and banking time to be taken off in the future.

In the prison system, where 70 percent of all state workers paid by the general fund are employed, officials say the long-term cost of furloughs is greater than the savings. But corrections officials say they were told by the administration that short-term payroll savings are more important than future liabilities.

Remarkably, correctional workers banked 1.5 million furlough hours between February and August 2009. Most are correctional officers. At a pay rate of $34.91 an hour, those hours create a future liability of at least $52 million.

When correctional officers do take time off, they generally use furlough days, not vacation days. As a result, from February through August of 2009, the number of unused vacation days accrued by correctional officers jumped 500 percent. This massive buildup of vacation time will complicate prison staffing in the future. The accrued vacation will increase costs, because many workers will be at a higher pay rate when they finally do use their vacation hours.

Furloughs fail to save the $108 million projected by the administration in the prison healthcare system, according to the court-appointed agency operating inmate medical care. Instead, officials say, paying overtime and hiring private workers to fill in for furloughed employees will more than offset any savings.

Furloughs are projected to increase costs within the prison health care system by $37 million to $47 million this year, according to the court-appointed receiver. They say furloughs also create a "management nightmare" and interfere with the court-mandated effort to improve inmate medical care.

Employees in California's dozen mental hospitals and developmental centers are also being forced to work furlough days. They are racking up large balances of furlough and vacation time.

An excerpt from the report:

Asked to justify the imposition of furloughs on these full-time operations, the governor's office responded in writing, without elaboration: "For the most part, 24-hour facilities are on self-directed furlough, and this results in savings."

Click here to download the 15-page report.

IMAGE: www.senate.ca.gov

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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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