State could furlough employees

Published 11:59 pm Wednesday, March 18, 2009

An estimated 75 local state employees could be impacted if financially strapped state agencies are allowed to furlough employees up to 24 days in order to reduce payroll costs.

Alabama’s Personnel Board approved the measure last Wednesday, and it must now go for final review before the legislature’s legislative council, which can accept, reject or recommend changes.

State officials began looking at furloughs after state tax revenue declined due to the recession. State personnel rules allowed layoffs, but not furloughs. A furlough is a sort of “unpaid vacation,” where employees are required to take work off for a number of days without pay.

The new rules provide that once a state agency has exhausted other budget-cutting measures, it may furlough an employee for up to two days per month. Employees would lose their pay for those days, but they would retain their seniority, vacation and health insurance benefits.

Workers who are laid off lose their health insurance along with their paychecks.

There are numerous state agencies with offices in Covington County — including, but not limited to, the Alabama Beverage Control Board, Children’s Rehabilitative Services, Department of Human Resources, Department of Transportation and Department of Conservation Wildlife and Fresh Water Fisheries.

State officials began working on the rules before Congress passed the federal stimulus package to help states, and Gov. Bob Riley said last Tuesday state officials are still sorting out what Alabama will receive from the package, but he is hopeful it will make furloughs unnecessary.

“We’ll know by the end of the week, but I don’t know of anything that will push us to make that kind of decision,” Riley said — which is exactly what local state employees are hoping for.

Bill Wofford, district manager for ALDOT, has an office in Andalusia and currently has 32 employees in his district.

“And that number changes depending on construction projects,” Wofford said. “I have been told that ALDOT is not looking at any furloughs or layoffs right now because of the federal incentive money. They’re speculating more construction and we’re hoping to really get busy with new projects.”

Capt. Don Herring of the Department of Conservation Wildlife and Fresh Water Fisheries serves over 10 counties with 23 employees. He said, if passed, the furloughs “would be devastating” since there are only two conservation officers assigned to each district.

“(The state) may or may not,” he said. “Only time will tell.”

The Alabama State Employees Association, which represents a majority of state workers, is working to try to stop the rules from taking effect April 15.