Hundreds of state workers are facing unpaid furloughs and layoffs – potentially within a week – as agencies struggle to implement budget cuts approved last week, officials say.
Hundreds of state workers are facing unpaid furloughs and layoffs - potentially within a week - as agencies struggle to implement budget cuts approved last week, officials say.
State agency officials were briefed Tuesday on procedures they will need to follow to implement reduction-in-force policies, as layoffs of state workers are called, said Alan Ecker, spokesman for the Arizona Department of Administration (DOA). Decisions on layoffs are up to individual agency heads, he said.
Agency directors will be notified shortly to report their plans to cut personnel costs to DOA, he said. But since that order has yet to go out, there are not yet any estimates as to how many state workers could lose their jobs, he said.
Some agencies have already laid off temporary workers and employees who were still in their probationary periods, said Sheri Van Horsen, president of the local chapter of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Workers union that represents state workers. Roughly 400 state workers fall into that category, she said.
In at least one agency, exempt employees - those not covered by civil service protections - have been notified they will be required to take one unpaid day off per pay period, Van Horsen said. Workers covered by state personnel rules also have been warned that similar furlough programs are ahead for them once state personnel officials get clarification of some legal issues, she said.
"Our fears are coming to be," Van Horsen said Wednesday. "It can happen within a week that we will see the larger numbers" of layoffs.
State government employs about 41,000 people, according to 2008 figures, the most recent available. All but about 5,000 work in agencies that use the personnel system within DOA. Other agencies, including the governor's office, the Legislature, the Department of Public Safety and the courts, are outside the administration department's personnel system.
Ecker said his agency held a training session on Tuesday to explain the procedures that must be followed for layoffs. The rule is that each employee is scored based on years of service and their performance evaluations, with those having the lowest scores being the first to lose their jobs, under the procedure.
One of the rules in the state's reduction-in-force policy is that it cannot be implemented until after temporary and limited employees - those paid with special accounts outside the normal budget - have been let go, Ecker said.
Last week Gov. Jan Brewer signed legislation that trims about $1.6 billion in state spending in the current fiscal year to make up for a budget shortfall caused by the state's sour economy. About $580 million of those cutbacks come through reductions in agency spending. The bills do not specify job cuts.
The state does not have the authority to impose furloughs - unpaid days off - on workers covered by state personnel rules, according to a briefing document used during the training session Tuesday.
The director of the administration department was given the authority to create a furlough plan for covered employees as part of the new budget package. However, that provision does not take effect for 90 days, so immediate furloughs of covered workers are not permitted, Ecker said.
Van Horsen said state workers would rather take an unpaid day or two off per month than lose their jobs. But those should be last-ditch options after spending for unneeded equipment and programs have already been sliced, she said.
"I understand, we've got problems," Van Horsen said. "There are going to have to be cuts that are made. Certainly we know some folks are going to lose their jobs. But there are ways we can be a little more creative about this."