Plan to avoid more state layoffs prudent

When jobs are gone, it's difficult to get them back. And layoffs hurt the economy.

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In an effort to avoid even more layoffs in state government, the Legislature this spring approved a plan calling for employees to take temporary, unpaid leave.

The mandated leave makes sense. It spreads the pain caused by the current recession. And keeping folks employed is better for the economic health of the state.

Yet, there is loud grumbling about this plan from the Washington Federal of State Employees. The union is threatening a lawsuit.

The Legislature mandated state offices close for 10 days throughout the next year with employees taking unpaid leave for those days. The various departments and agencies don't have to shut down on those 10 days if they come up with an alternative plan to reach the savings goal.

The first furlough day is set for July 12. Unions have demanded to negotiate the furloughs and talks won't occur until July 6.

"We're still looking at the entire issue," Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, told The (Tacoma) News Tribune last week. He was irked one-quarter or more of the state government work force will have to take 10 days of unpaid leave.

"We think the whole idea is ridiculous," he said. "If there is a way to stop it, we will try to do that."

Devereux argues the 10-days of lost pay the economy and could cost the state a chance to qualify for more federal matching dollars. Devereux added this plan could not save money because of overtime costs at state welfare offices and other agencies that have high case loads.

We agree losing two-weeks of pay will be tough for the employees and their families. It will also have a negative impact on the economy.

However, it is far better than eliminating jobs. When jobs are gone, it's difficult to get them back. Layoffs should be a last resort.

This plan is far from ridiculous. It's a way to save jobs, save money and still provide state services.

State budget director Marty Brown said he believes the state will save the required $38 million through furloughs without additional overtime expenses as occurred in Oregon when it used furloughs last year. Washington's law makes exceptions for employees who need to be on the jobs such as workers critical to running prisons.

"The governor's expectation is that there is no overtime," said Cory Curtis, spokesman for Gov. Chris Gregoire.

The public should have the same expectation.

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