State Workers

Agencies closed Monday

The near-monthly furlough of state government employees continues Monday, giving thousands of workers a four-day weekend that included the Christmas holiday Friday.

The Office of Financial Management released a list of agencies, boards and commissions that close for the unpaid day off – including Gov. Chris Gregoire’s office. But some agencies – including the Department of Transportation and state parks – will be open as usual, having met their payroll cuts under the state’s furlough plan by other means.

The Monday furloughs will follow the routine of past months, OFM spokesman Glenn Kuper said. OFM has expected to save $73 million from the 10 furlough days scheduled through June – $38 million from the general fund and $35 million more from other fund sources.

The Democratic majority in the Legislature approved the furloughs in April despite the objections of labor unions. The furloughs – which have affected more than 24,000 workers each time – were part of a budget-balancing deal that cut spending by hundreds of millions of dollars, eliminated jobs and raised taxes and other revenue by nearly $800 million a year.

The closures mean residents needing Medicaid or car-licensing services will be out of luck. Driver-licensing offices are shut Monday, and so are the state’s Medicaid offices. But critical public-safety workers in state hospitals, prisons, labs and the State Patrol remain on the job.

Agencies such as the Transportation Department shut down in October as part of a more concentrated furlough that affected most workers but on fewer days of the year. DOT is not among those closing its headquarters Monday, but it will close March 11, part of the agency’s $1.4 million share of payroll savings ordered by the Legislature, spokesman Steve Pierce said.

The Department of Social and Health Services also is shutting down most of its functions as part of an expanded furlough spurred by Gregoire’s across-the-board cuts. The expanded furlough affects virtually all of the agency’s 18,000 staffers – including those covered by the Legislature’s furloughs and others exempted by lawmakers.

Those working in state hospitals or with child and adult protective services would take their furlough time on a staggered basis, or on alternate days, so vital services are kept intact.

Five additional furlough days are planned for many agencies Jan. 28, Feb. 22, March 11, April 22 and June 10, according to OFM.

Gregoire and three major labor groups reached agreement this month on further furloughs in the two-year budget period that begins July 1. Under that plan, nearly 90 percent of the general-government work force would see its pay cut by 3 percent. In return, workers would take 5.2 hours a month off work with pay.

Tim Welch of the Washington Federation of State Employees, which represents about 40,000 workers, calls it a prepaid furlough plan, because workers’ pay is docked before they take the day off.

The union’s general-government bargaining team is set to meet Jan. 3 to lay out a schedule for a ratification vote on the tentative contract agreement. The agreement also includes a shift in worker health care payments to 15 percent of insurance premiums, up from 12 percent.

Brad Shannon: 360-753-1688