In our story Sunday about state workers taking home millions of dollars in unused leave, we touched a little on the potential impact of state employee furloughs, which some state departments worry will cause their leave liabilities to balloon in coming years. But really, we only scratched the surface.
We talked to the California Highway Patrol, CalFire, the Department of Corrections and a few others during the course of our reporting, and they all said essentially the same thing: Furloughs have made it much harder for their employees to take paid time off, which is causing them to accumulate leave like never before.
The numbers seem to bear that out. Studies conducted by the Senate Office of Oversight and Outcomes have shown workers in several departments banking vacation at rates upwards of six times what they were socking away pre-furloughs. The office was founded by Senate President Darrell Steinberg, a Democrat, and has produced several reports critical of furloughs enacted by Republican Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.
Three reports released since last fall outline the growing burden of banked vacation in several departments:
- According to a report released last month about furloughs at the state's Franchise Tax Board: "The amount of vacation banked by Franchise Tax Board employees has risen steadily since furloughs were imposed in February 2009, from 1.1 million hours to1.4 million hours by the end of December 2009. (During the same period in 2008, accrued vacation declined 13,000 hours.)"
- "Managers will have to juggle the workforce to cover the stockpiled vacation. Many employees may also cash out their banked vacation and retire in the face of (Gov. Arnold) Schwarzenegger’s proposal to cut state worker salaries across the board between 5 percent and 10 percent and boost employee pension contributions by an additional 5 percent," the report also reads.
- Among workers in the state’s unemployment offices, “The amount of vacation taken by employment program representatives fell by more than two-thirds between the third quarters of 2008 and 2009,” according to a report released in December.
- State corrections workers have banked approximately 500 percent more vacation than usual since furloughs began, according to an October report.
Some emergency workers – uniformed CHP officers, for example – are exempt from furloughs. And in most cases, state workers must take their furlough days on the first three Fridays of each month, which in theory precludes them from using the unpaid time off as a direct substitute for vacation.
But dozens of state departments and agencies have also been granted permission to allow their employees to bank their furlough time and take it in larger chunks, according to documents provided by the Department of Personnel Administration.
DPA outlines two types of self-directed furloughs on its Web site:
For positions that generate revenue, or where services must continue and employees normally must work on holidays: You can choose which three days to take off each month, subject to supervisor approval.
For posted positions in 24/7 facilities such as prisons and hospitals: Management will work with employees to determine which three days in the month will be taken off. When this is not operationally feasible and would jeopardize security, health or safety, management will work with employees to select time off in the future. However, deferring furlough days for future use shall only be done after all other options have been evaluated and proven unworkable. All furlough days must be taken within two years following the end of the furlough program.
We don’t know how closely these regulations are being followed (though we’d love to hear from you if you do). What we do know is that either way, vacation is being banked at a much higher rate than usual – particularly among corrections workers, who already composed about a third of vacation cash-out costs over the last few years.
More than 14,000 state workers had already exceeded their vacation and leave caps as of December 2008. We hope to get a look at updated figures within the next few weeks.