Uncertainties persist about the governor’s furlough plan

Thursday, July 22, 2010

Just a small percentage of about 2,700 nonunion state workers in agencies under the governor will be exempt from Gov. Pat Quinn’s new administrative order to take 24 furlough days in the fiscal year that began July 1.

But for most of the nonunion employees — from managers to clerical staff — those furloughs will be part of their work year, and many may have questions about how they will be implemented.

The only people identified so far as being exempt, said Kelly Kraft, spokeswoman for the governor’s budget office, are 154 Illinois Department of Employment Securities workers, “due to the fact that they have a federal mandate and there would be a loss of service.”

Kraft also said Monday that a “few employees” in the Department of Human Services who work at 24-hour mental health facilities will not be able to take part in the full 24 days “due to their performance of essential services.”
Among other questions affected employees may have:

Q: Are there rules by which the furloughs must be taken?

A: Kraft said that only two furlough days can be taken in a week, although more specific timing would be up to each agency.

Q: How much was saved in fiscal 2010, which ended June 30?

A: Kraft put the figure at about $9 million.

Q: How can people get their work done if, in addition to vacation, they get nearly five work weeks off per year?

A: “That’s definitely a valid question,” Kraft said. “Everyone is going to have to step up to the plate and be a team player.”

Q: If state government operates well despite the furlough days, does that mean the state employs too many people?

A: Kraft said Illinois is at or near the lowest per-capita number of state workers of any state. “So to say that we have too many employees, I would say that that’s just not true at all.”

Q: Will the furloughs create the need for more overtime?

A: Kraft said budget officials were meeting about that issue Monday. “If there’s going to be excessive overtime, then that kind of negates the savings from the furlough days,” she said. “Again, we are going to be hopeful that everyone can step up to the plate and do what needs to be done to make sure all the shifts are covered during the normal workday.”

Q: What effect will this have on lawmakers and others not working directly for the governor?

A: In his news release Friday, Quinn said, “Unprecedented times call for unprecedented measures, and I thank our hardworking state employees for their dedication in getting Illinois back on track. … I am calling on all state employees, not just managers and policymakers, but the Illinois General Assembly, their staffs and union members as well, to join us in taking the necessary steps to further cut the state budget.”

Q: What about engineers at the Illinois Department of Transportation, which will be overseeing work under the state’s capital plan?

A: Not all engineers at IDOT are union, said agency spokesman Josh Kauffman. “At this point, there isn’t a voluntary furlough program established for the union positions,” he added.

Q: Is all this a reaction to a recent Associated Press story about more than 30 people getting raises averaging more than 11 percent in the governor’s office?

A: Kraft said the furlough order would have been necessary without that story, and really resulted from Quinn’s recent trip to Washington, where he and other governors found out that some hoped-for reimbursement for Medicaid — about $750 million in Illinois — would probably not be coming.

“We’re still holding out hope” for that reimbursement,” Kraft said, “but after his meetings … he felt more belt tightening was needed.”

The staff raises that got the publicity, Kraft said, amounted to about $300,000, and people who got them are subject to the furlough order, while the statewide furlough will be saving “millions and millions” of dollars.

Q: Are other cost-cutting measures on the way?

A: “His main point is,” Kraft said of Quinn, “as each month goes on, as each week goes on, he’s going to look at more and more further cost reductions. And he wants to have these administrative reductions be probably a monthly thing. ... He wants to have this be a continuous process.”

More union furloughs?

Quinn has also asked that unionized state workers take more furlough days, but that would require agreement of their bargaining units.

“We are willing to listen to what the governor has to say, what he might propose,” said Anders Lindall, spokesman for the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31, the statewide group.

Quinn had required many nonunion state workers to take a dozen furlough days in the fiscal year ended June 30. AFSCME, which fought to block about 2,600 proposed layoffs last year, reached agreement with the state on cost-cutting measures including having many of its members take voluntary furlough days.

Under a plan agreed to by AFSCME, in a span that began April 1 and runs through June 30, 2011, every two furlough days — up to 10 — taken by members of the union will earn them one paid day off, generally adjacent to a holiday period such as Thanksgiving or Christmas.

But Lindall said that while AFSCME estimates that more than half of the 40,000 state workers his union represents are eligible to participate, many are not eligible.

Those paid by federal funds; who work in revenue-generating positions, such as auditors in the Department of Revenue; or who work in certain types of facilities such as a prison, a veterans home or mental health center are among those who won’t be taking furloughs.

“All of those facilities are already critically understaffed,” Lindall said.

Quinn said his across-the-board salary reduction would result in a 9.2 percent salary cut for the governor’s staff and state managers and policymakers, with a savings of about $18 million for fiscal 2011, which began July 1. Kraft said the 2,700 take in a range of nonunion workers, including administrative assistants, press assistants, and clerical workers.

Highlights of the furlough plan

Gov. Pat Quinn's Administrative Order No. 1, issued Friday, provides that:

* All non-bargaining unit state employees are required to take 24 days off from work without compensation during fiscal 2011, which began July 1.The reduction in pay is not considered a change in salary and will not impact pension or other benefits.

* Each state agency is responsible for implementing a plan to put the order into effect.

* Each agency must track savings from this round of furlough days, as in the past round.

* Nothing in the order should be seen as contravening any state or federal law or collective bargaining agreement.
Who’s exempt?

While the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees, a union representing about 40,000 of the 52,000 workers under the governor, has already agreed to allow its members to take voluntary furlough days, some employees represented by that union are not eligible, according to spokesman Anders Lindall. They include:

* Certain people who work in facilities of the departments of Corrections, Human Services or Veterans Affairs, with titles including mental health technicians, licensed practical nurses, physical therapy aids, residential care workers and veterans nursing assistants.

* Individuals in federally funded positions such as the Department of Employment Security and the DHS bureau of disability determination.

* Revenue-generating jobs, such as auditors in the Department of Revenue.

* Other titles where operational needs would dictate that furloughs would cause overtime.