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WA State Workers Glum about First Furlough Day

July 12, 2010

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 off.

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.

Chris Thomas, Public News Service - WA