What are Furlough Days?
Saves employees from layoffs, but at what price?
Oxford Academy is a charter school in Cypress, California. By all measures, the school is successful and is often preferred by parents and high achieving students in the area. However, it is not immune to something that is plaguing many traditional schools in the area. Funding is low within the school district it resides in.
In the city of Los Angeles (nearly 20 miles northeast of Cypress), public funds are drying up, as well. Further cuts threaten to stall a slow economic recovery for the region. It has also affected many local and state workers whose jobs are routinely at stake.
A big city government and a charter school don’t seem to have much in common. However, the two entities have taken massive reduction in what they can offer to the public, due to California’s budget crisis. They’ve also latched onto -- and implemented -- a short-term solution to their woes.
The immediate results of a furlough day are four-day work weeks for many companies and public agencies. This also results in the reduction of critical teaching days at the public schools.
The philosophy behind it is it will save money by cutting the utility costs of a facility and reducing clerical tasks that may result in expenditures. Also, it is a way cutting back by not laying off the employees. Instead, they get a reduction in their weekly checks.
In many cases, a furlough day is temporary or used periodically. It is a rarity that it becomes a permanent part of a company’s work week schedule.
On paper, this action may have some benefits: workers can spend more time with their families; unnecessary spending is drastically reduced; and vital programs offered to the public can be spared.
In practice, on the other hand, it has led to disruptions in services to customers; limitation of services offered; and the reduction in the value of the paychecks the employees take home.
One area being heavily impacted in California is its public school system. This includes publicly funded charter schools such as Oxford Academy.
Although furlough days spare public school workers from layoffs, it drastically affects what they can offer to students. Many school districts have, on average 180 teaching days of school. Furloughs in school districts may result in those days being reduced to 175 or 170 days.
This may sound great for students. It means their summer or holidays are longer, depending the days the district official implement them.
But, it’s not good for teachers, administrators, and custodial workers. These days result in no pay for those days for the staff. Also, it leads to disruption in maintenance of the facility and delays in delivery of vital supplies.
Another area affected drastically by furlough days are public universities. In this case, students are impacted negatively. Since many pay for tuition – and many at the same rate before the furlough day was implemented – they will have to pay for fewer educational services (this was particularly true when several universities throughout the country implemented this in 2009).
Sometimes, deficits and budget problems are not the reason for furlough days. In past, state and local gridlock in the legislature has resulted in furloughs for government workers. This has happened several times in the last 20 years. One such incident occurred in February 2010 when 2000 federal workers for the Department of Transportation were furloughed. This was due to a single Senate objection that prevented emergency funding for the department.
In many cases, furloughs were short-lived or avoided (especially during April and August of 2011). In other cases, the furlough days turned into weeks and years. To date, the longest government furlough lasted from December 16, 1995 to January 6, 1996. This affected non-essential employees and shut down services offered by the National Institute of Health, visa and passport processing, and operation of parks.
Still, furloughs are better alternative to layoffs. It is part of the reason many employees and unions will vie for this in collective bargaining agreements. In 2009 The State Employee Trade Council (SETC) voted for a mandatory two-day per month furlough for the staff and faculty of the California State University system. As a result, the CSU system saved about $270 million of its $564 million dollar budget deficit. The furlough ended in June 2010.
Furloughs can save money during tough times, but it doesn’t ensure a smooth working condition. While this may create problems in public services offered in Los Angeles, or affect the length of the school year at schools such as Oxford Academy, it doesn’t shut them down entirely. Better yet, the employees keep their jobs. Furloughs are, in many respects, the lesser of two evils when it comes to budget cuts.
An Update, One Year Later...
The sequester in the United States has fueled the latest rounds of furlough days in the government sector. However, such occasions are beginning to decrease in the both the private and public sector.
The public school system in California has seen fewer of them. Many districts are rebounding and have called off future furloughs.
The dire financial crisis that has plagued much of the country are far from over. Still, within a year the improvements are starting to show.
More on Furlough Day
© 2012 Dean Traylor