State Workers

State worker lists shrinking

The number of workers on Washington's state government payroll slowly is shrinking.

The state Office of Financial Management said last week that actual employment in state agencies was 63,209 full-time positions as of July 31. That was down from the 63,671.5 at the end of June, when the previous two-year budget cycle ended. The latest numbers don’t include employment at state universities and colleges.

The change represents a net decrease of about 462 “warm bodies” in one month, as one official put it, a change of less than 1 percent. But some agencies went up in jobs, while others fell.

“We’re seeing an overall downward trend in the number of employees in state government, despite some small increases for the Employment Security Department, which has hired employees to help people find work and to process unemployment insurance claims, and the Department of Natural Resources, which hires a number of seasonal employees to fight fires,” OFM spokeswoman Kate Lykins-Brown said last week.

The reductions were driven by the Legislature’s budget cuts in April and Gov. Chris Gregoire’s executive orders that began almost 15 months ago. Both were prompted by the recession and a corresponding dive in state tax revenue, which led to more than $4 billion in spending cuts.

MORE LAYOFFS EXPECTED

The overall figure represents less than 1 percent of the workers in general state government agencies and still is well below the 1,200 state-agency workers that budget writers have predicted will lose jobs through the cuts.

The end of a state government hiring freeze July 1 has not changed the trend toward smaller government, although there still are more workers on the payroll than in June 2007.

The trend is expected to continue, and Greg Devereux, executive director of the Washington Federation of State Employees, said earlier this summer that he expected 700 additional layoffs.

“We’re looking ahead to next session. We want to stem the bleeding. We believe the economy is going to recover, and we want to put some of the pieces back,” federation spokesman Tim Welch added Friday. “There are some agencies being devastated by the cuts, and we need to restore them.”

SUMMER BREAK SKEWS DATA

The Department of Personnel released a head count of state workers Friday that appears to show the same downward trend as the governor’s budget office figures. The Personnel data show that the number of general-government workers on the payroll, including part-time and temporary employees, fell to 64,548 as of Aug. 31. That compared with 64,933 on July 31 and 65,290 on June 30, the last day of the previous two-year budget cycle.

Universities and colleges also have reduced staffing levels, but those figures are distorted by seasonal changes during the summer. OFM says higher-ed institutions had filled 42,290 full-time equivalent positions as of July 31. That compared with 48,851 a month before and 48,053 in June 2008.

OFM does not expect higher-education jobs data to show the real effects of budget cuts for another month or two, after students return to class and staffs are back at full levels.

DSHS SAYS 1,257 JOBS CUT

Of all the state’s agencies, the biggest reductions in FTEs have come at the Department of Social and Health Services. That leviathan agency, which is the state’s largest, shed roughly 600 jobs statewide for the month – and more than 804 full-time positions since June 2008. Spokesman Thomas Shapley said Friday that the actual head count shrank by 1,257 over the past 13 months, and the lion’s share came from administrative ranks. DSHS now employs the equivalent of 18,183 full-time workers.

Some of the positions were eliminated through layoffs, and some through not filling positions as workers retired or left on their own. Layoffs and departures began last year and are ongoing because of “bumping” – the legal right of some workers to “bump” into a lower-paying position held by a lower-seniority worker.

“It’s still going on because of the bumping. This has not settled down yet. Layoffs continue,” Shapley said Friday.

The Department of Labor and Industries shed about 75 FTEs in July, Corrections lost nearly 88, the Secretary of State’s Office lost 22 and the governor lost about eight of her 55 staff positions, the OFM data show.

State courts also saw reductions, and so did the legislative branch. In fact, one of the larger reductions on a percentage basis came in the state House and Senate, where both chambers are cutting their full-time staffs by 5 percent.

Deputy Secretary of the Senate Brad Hendrickson said the actual reductions in the Senate so far are 10 full-time, year-round positions. Hendrickson said the Senate also plans to hire fewer temporary staffers for the 2010 session. Deputy Chief Clerk Bernard Dean in the House reported similar reductions.

SOME GROWTH

Meanwhile, a few agencies have grown since June 30. The Employment Security Department added almost 242 positions in response to a sharp increase in jobless claims. OFM said state parks added the equivalent of 190 seasonal or temporary workers, but those jobs are ending, according to the agency. And the Liquor Control Board added to its staff. Some are seasonal workers at a distribution center and some are hired to prepare for the opening of new stores, the agency said.

The Department of Revenue added about eight positions – to total nearly 1,070 – as that agency adds tax collectors who are supposed to bring in more revenue to the state treasury.

THURSTON COUNTY HIT HARD

Budget writers in the Legislature such as Sen. Rodney Tom, D-Medina, have predicted cuts of more than 2,000 jobs in higher education and the same in state government, with a few thousand more in public schools around the state.

There are no specific figures yet for the job losses in Thurston County. “We’re seeing it statewide,” Welch said. “But if you look at the numbers, obviously the biggest group is going to be in Thurston County.’’

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688

bshannon@theolympian.com

www.theolympian.com/politicsblog

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