Shame on you AJC! You didn’t let me comment on this article. Why not? Because you didn’t, I’ll comment here.
First, let me share the article I’m referencing: http://alturl.com/v82h
This article comes from www.ajc.com, the online version of what once was “The South’s Standard Newspaper”, the Atlanta Constitution and the Atlanta Journal, which, for decades claimed to “Cover Dixie Like the Dew”.
The headline for this article reads “12-day shutdown of state social service agency protested – Advocates say children could be more at risk”. To this, I say, “Harumphhhh.”
First a little background. Georgia’s bloated state government (more than 100,000 employees) is in deep financial trouble. Falling sales tax revenues (see my other blog articles on government waste) have resulted in agencies being forced to require employees to take unpaid furlough days in order to cut costs.
So, the Department of Human Services, and Commissioner B.J. Walker have tightened their belt and agreed to furlough employees for 12 days beginning the Friday before Labor Day and going through next June.
At first glance, this seems like an honorable solution to help with the state’s budget shortfall. But, there’s some deception in play here. Allow me to explain. All of the days, except for the Wednesday before Thanksgiving and New Year’s Eve are Fridays. Several of the Fridays fall before a scheduled 3-day state holiday weekend (Labor Day, Columbus Day, Martin Luther King’s Birthday, and Memorial Day). I’m not sure why they don’t have the Friday off before Confederate Memorial Day, which Georgia still celebrates at a state holiday the last Monday in April. This means that DHS is really extending the vacation time for these employees.
So . . . furloughing the thousands of employees in the DHS for 12 days saves the state money, right? Not really. Here’s why. As I observed during my eight years or so as a manager in GA Government, a huge number of employees take these days off anyway, using personal leave, annual leave, or conveniently scheduled sick leave. In Georgia government employment, annual leave and sick leave are earned each month that an employee works, based on a rate that increases as tenure increases. Personal leave can be earned by “cashing in” unused sick leave (up to three days per year) – so this is paid bonus time that employees can use for any reason, that allows them to save annual leave that can later be used or “cashed in” at retirement or resignation. [Disclaimer, when I resigned my position in the Department of Revenue, I “cashed in” about 4 weeks’ worth of unused Annual Leave, thus earning an additional paycheck equal to about a month’s pay for time I was not on the payroll. No, I’m not sending the check back.]Why is this NOT a good deal for the state? Because employees who would otherwise be using annual, sick, or personal leave to be off on these days are now off without pay. This means they don’t have to use their leave, and can take off another day at some other time during the year. By having the employees taking an additional day off, the services will be cut even further, causing a reduction in efficiency and putting the vulnerable citizens who need these services at further risk.
Anyone who has ever worked in a government environment, or any corporate environment, for that matter, has seen how little work gets done on the Friday before a long weekend, with employees taking it easy and getting into “weekend mode”. Now, the weekends in several cases will be 4-day weekends, so Thursday will be the day that those workers get into “weekend mode”. I have no empirical evidence to support this prediction, but I’m guessing that there will be a significant percentage of the workforce who uses annual, sick, of personal leave on the Thursday preceding these newly created 4-day weekends. Some may even try to take Wednesday, or at least Wednesday afternoon, as well.
Knowing that they are, in effect being paid less for their services, will also reduce their incentives to provide the best quality of service. I can imagine several of my former employees saying something like, “Well, they aren’t paying me for tomorrow, so I’m not working today”, while sitting in their cubicles reading a newspaper, and, by extension, reducing vital services to Georgia’s most vulnerable citizens. Again, I have no evidence to support this prediction, other than real life experience supervising more than a hundred government employees.
So, in my opinion, the bulk furloughs of state employees is not the money saver the state expects it to be, or advertises it to be. A better solution would be for DHS to rotate the furlough days by having a percentage of their work force take their furlough days on various days throughout the year.
An even better solution, in my opinion, would be for the state as a whole to make some drastic changes in the way that annual leave is awareded. First, they should eliminate the “Personal Leave” program and require employees to leave sick leave as sick leave. Employees are not allowed to “cash in” unused sick leave at termination like they are with annual leave. Second, employees should be limited in the number of annual leave hours they are allowed to roll over at the end of each year. Finally, the state should (and they have the authority to do so) trade the forced furloughs back to employees and require all employees to take a 15% reduction across the board to the number of annual leave hours accrued. This move alone would create a savings of millions of wasted dollars, and would protect the state for years to come – not just this year.
Now, if the AJC were a competent journalistic entity, they would assign a reporter to dig deeper into the REAL financial impact of these decisions. Hey, AJC, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org and I can show you how to get your head out of (the sand) and walk you through how to investigate this.