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Furlough is 2009′s foreclosure

Submitted by on Wednesday, 21 January 2009 No Comment

Seeing every other house on your street sold at a foreclosure auction? That’s so 2008.

This year, you’re hopelessly unhip if you don’t know someone who’s been furloughed. Bonus points if you’ve been furloughed yourself.

The state of California is doing it: Many government workers will take two unpaid days a month started Feb. 6 as  officials try to dig out of a $40 billion hole. Not that they’re particularly trying – not in the sense of “putting effort into it,” at least.They’re certainly trying everyone’s patience, though.

Due to redistricting that leaves most legislative district partisan safe as well as a requirement that budget legislation pass by a two-thirds vote, the budget could well ferment until a big honking “foreclosed” sign goes up on the entire state.

The state of Kentucky is considering a similar plan: The governor there also wants to send workers home 24 days this year.

President Barack Obama mentioned it in his inaugural address: “For as much as government can do and must do, it is ultimately the faith and determination of the American people upon which this nation relies. It is the kindness to take in a stranger when the levees break, the selflessness of workers who would rather cut their hours than see a friend lose their job that sees us through our darkest hours.”

Teachers in San Jose agreed to do it to themselves, helping the district shave $1.5 million off an $8 million to $10 million deficit. This comes as the California Teachers Association opposes Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger’s proposal to save money by making the school year five days shorter.

Newspaper publisher Gannett’s doing it, ordering many employees to take an unpaid week off before the end of March. “We hope it will minimize the need for layoffs,” a corporate memo posted on the Editor & Publisher Web site said. Union members would be exempt, though Gannett executives have asked them to go along. National union leaders have called the plan “reasonable,” but only if local bargaining units agree.

“We are not opposed to it,” Newspaper Guild President Bernie Lunzer told Editor & Publisher. “If it is a legitimate need, it is a creative solution.”

An Owings Corning plant in New Jersey is doing it, asking workers to take off 93 unpaid days this year. Yes, asking. Union leaders agreed, putting it out for a vote. Members approved.

Those are some smart union leaders.

They know that as painful as lost pay is – it there’s no denying it would be incredibly painful for those in lower income brackets – it’s better than a lost job.

One industry blogger estimates the Gannett furloughs could save 600 jobs this year.

Without getting too complicated with the math, think of it this way: If nine workers go unpaid for two days each month, that’s 18 pay-roll days saved. That is the equivalent of a full-time position for the month in the furlough world of the 18-day work month.

I don’t blame workers for balking. People in some industries have heard “do more with less” for so many years that the mantra has crossed the line from hollow cliche to outright hypocrisy.

And no one wants to lose money, particularly since cost-of-living increases don’t take furloughs. Even though the Consumer Price Index dropped 1 percent last month, it still increased 0.1 percent for the year, 5.8 percent in food items.

There’s also the element of extreme unfairness for the average family, which never benefited from the full extent of the boom but now is being asked to shoulder the burden of bad decisions the led to the bust.

But the bottom line is, well, the bottom line. Companies are going to trim it one way or another. Government has to trim it or we’ll all pay down the road.

It’s a lousy choice, but it seems that 90 percent of a job would be better than none.

Copyright 2009 Debra Legg. All rights reserved.

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