What is a Furlough? A “furlough” is any time that an employer requires members of its workforce to take unpaid leave. It means you remain employed, but you don’t work, you don’t get paid, and you cannot use accrued time off (vacation, exchange, etc.) to remain in paid status. In most Washington State union collective bargaining agreements, we don’t use the work “furlough.” Instead, the contracts talk about temporary reductions in work hours or similar language. This is a broader term that includes furloughs. In the WPEA General Government and Higher Education CBA’s, this language is in the Layoff and Recall article.
Who is being furloughed? Cabinet Agencies All state employees whose agencies report ultimately to the Governor, with a few very narrow exceptions.
Some employees of the Department of Health (because of Covid) and the Employment Security Department (because of unemployment claims).
Employees whose job is “essential” (as determined by the State, and it may be different from what it meant for Covid-related closures) AND who would need a substitute to fill their shift if they aren’t there.
Otherwise, from the Agency Director on down to the bottom of every organization chart all employees in these agencies are taking unpaid furloughs. Agencies were given the option to ask for other exceptions, but we aren’t aware of any being approved. This covers WPEA members at: Agriculture, Licensing, Liquor and Cannabis Board, Military Department, Revenue, School for the Blind, School for the Deaf, and State Patrol
Dept of Natural Resources State agencies that are headed by another elected official were not required to follow the exact rules laid out by the Governor, but were strongly encouraged to furlough as widely as possible to maximize savings. For WPEA members, this covers the Department of Natural Resources (headed by the elected Commissioner of Public Lands). DNR will furlough all employees with the following exceptions:
DNR Law Enforcement, specifically uniformed officers and the senior wildland fire investigators. (This is similar to the substitute exception for other agencies.)
Some DNR Uplands positions directly related to revenue production.
DNR Firefighting – This is a subset of all DNR employees with incident qualifications cards. Specifically seasonal firefighters, Wildfire Division personnel, Type 1/2 IMT primary/alternate/trainee members, critical Type 3 IMT members as identified by the regions, and other DNR personnel considered as part of the militia with positions identified as critical to supplement DNR response. (This exemption will be reassessed in early September.)
Community Colleges As with state agencies that don’t report directly to the Governor, higher education institutions were not required to follow the exact rules laid out by the Governor, but were strongly encouraged to furlough as widely as possible to maximize savings. Only some of the 13 WPEA-represented community colleges have decided to furlough employees at this time. Each college has a slightly different approach to furlough, please refer to communications from the college for those details. If you’re not sure what it means for you, check with HR or your shop stewards or staff rep. The colleges furloughing are: Bellevue College – following the Governor’s recommendations Edmonds College – Fourlough requirements vary based on the employee’s income. No members making under $40,000 per year will be furloughed. Grays Harbor College – weekly furloughs in July Pierce College – voluntary furloughs Walla Walla Community College – one day per month July 2020 – June 2021 Wenatchee Valley College – voluntary furloughs
How long does this last? All of the furloughs begin in July 2020. For state agencies (including DNR), employees will take one furlough day per week for four weeks in July. After that, there will be four additional furlough days in beginning in August. Exactly when and how long those dates will run are still under discussion, but they will end no later than November 30, 2020. WPEA has been told that the state will reassess toward the end of the year and may need to do another round of furloughs in early 2021. This is completely dependent on the state budget and revenue. We won’t know more for several months.
For colleges, the number of furlough days and their frequency will vary. Many are taking a similar approach to state agencies and doing more days in July than in the rest of the year. Most colleges will end their furloughs before the end of the calendar year. This variation depends on each college’s financial situation and how they expect Covid to continue to impact their school year.
Why such a rush and all these furlough days in July? By starting furloughs in July, both furloughed employees and the State will have access to federal funds that can help with the impacts of the furloughs. Most employees will be able to qualify for partial unemployment. Until July 25, 2020 if you qualify for any unemployment there is an additional $600 benefit from the federal CARES Act (part of the Covid economic recovery funding). By front-loading these furlough days in July, members will qualify for more of that money which should help with the loss of pay. Details for how to apply for unemployment and information on webinars from the Employment Security Department should be coming from your HR office. This unemployment will be processed through a program called the SharedWork program. SharedWork is designed to help employers keep its employees partially employed. As an incentive to do that, the employer receives some reimbursement from the federal government. Since the State or your college is your employer, that means these furloughs cost them less in unemployment that usual. That means a greater savings now and hopefully less need for other cuts in the future. Qualifying for unemployment is also easier for employees under SharedWork, and for most employees the benefit payments are higher. The SharedWork program is currently scheduled to run only through the end of 2020.
Why did the Union agree to these furloughs? Under our negotiated contracts, the State has the right to temporarily reduce your work hours under certain specific circumstances. You’ll find the language for that in the Layoff and Recall article of your contract. Those circumstances include “unanticipated loss of funding” and “revenue shortfall.” Both of those describe our current situation. What WPEA agreed to was the use of the SharedWork program. After discussions with the State Office of Financial Management and the Employment Security Department, we were convinced that access to that program was a benefit to the membership. Not agreeing to the program would not have prevented the furloughs, which had already been ordered by the Governor.
What will this mean for my workload and my annual goals? WPEA is staring talks with each of the agencies and colleges that are furloughing members to discuss all of the impacts of furloughs. If you have a specific issue or concern that should be covered in those talks, please reach out to your shop stewards or assigned staff representative to let them know what those are. These talks are happening agency by agency, college by college. We’ll be updating each group as those discussions progress.
Update as of June 22, 2020:
Unemployment: The Governor extended the waiver of a one-week waiting period. Our members should be eligible for partial unemployment for all four weeks of July.
WPEA is waiting for a draft agreement with the state about how the furloughs and the SharedWorks program will work. That will be one over-arching agreement. After this is completed, we’ll need to bargain impacts with the agencies. We’ve already seen announcements from general government agencies to members about how the implementation will look. For example, some are planning just to close one day a week in July. WPEA has filed Demand to Bargains as of Friday June 19, at all the agencies other than DNR (still waiting on their decision).
If any of the colleges sign on to these furloughs, we will have to see if they will be rolled into the exact same state-wide agreement language or if they modify their approach.
We are committed to working through this situation and keep you informed.
Information Concerning Governor’s Plan to Furlough State Employees The June Revenue Forecast became available and indicated a budget deficit over the next TWO biennia of $8.8 billion. Still much more information is needed before we can accurately predict what all of it will mean. Additionally, Governor Inslee sent out an announcement cancelling some state employee raises and laying out his furlough plan.
Below are a few questions members brought to WPEA and answers based on conversations with the Office of Financial Management (OFM).
What is a furlough?
A furlough is a temporary pay reduction by reducing paid hours. These furloughs/temporary layoffs will affect state employees at agencies under supervision of the governor. Some agencies and community colleges may or may not adopt the Governor’s plan.We heard from OFM Thursday morning that some colleges are interested in doing this, but they would need to get program details and list of employees to Employment Security in the next couple of days. We’re asking the colleges right now who is trying to do this.
How many furloughs days are expected?
One day per week in July and one day per month from August through November.
Will we be done with furloughs in November?What we’ve heard is that the Governor’s Office will re-assess as changing budget numbers come in. Depending on how long recovery takes and if the federal government ever funds support to the states, there may be more furloughs in 2021.
What happens to folks working 4/10s or other schedules?OFM stated that it was calculated assuming 8 hours only for everyone. We’ll get that in writing and we’ll need to talk with each agency about how schedules will change to do that.
Will this be a partial or a temporary layoff? The General Government contract allows for temporary reduction in work hours over no more than 120 days if work hours stay above 20 a week. If hours don’t stay above 20 a week, there’s a 30-day limit.
The Higher Education contracts (statewide, Highline, and Yakima Valley) don’t have a calendar day limit if an employee’s work hours stay above 20 a week. If hours don’t stay above 20 a week, there’s a 90-day limit.
We think there’s a problem under the General Government contract because June 28-November 30 is more than 120 days. We’re talking with the state about this and if we can’t change the dates if may be the basis for grieving part of the furlough.
Will this impact seniority or pensions?This will not impact your benefits unless you are retiring within the next 3 years and that affect should be very minimal.
Those who are not subject to the state’s budget, like those whose salaries are not tied to the general fund because they are revenue producing, are they subject to furloughs?
Each agency can apply for exemptions for individual jobs and make a case. The Office of Financial Management will make the determination on who is exempt from the furloughs. More information on criteria is coming.
Would it be possible to either raise the cap of the vacation accrual or at least suspend it for a while since no one is actually going anywhere on vacation so why would they use their leave? Alternatively, it could be specified that only 240 hours can be cashed out at retirement.
We can ask for that when the agreement is drafted but unless every Union agrees and the Lawmakers are in session to change the law, it is unlikely this will happen.
Members who have second jobs can file for partial unemployment although some members, after being furloughed from a second job, had to find another second job to maintain living. Will they qualify for unemployment?
The ESD has information on their site that should explain this. Under the SharedWork program, it appears eligibility isn’t based on working less than 40 hours a week, but what percentage of your total regular hours have been cut. This may allow members with second jobs to be eligible during July. Members will need to individually confirm that with ESD.
What is the SharedWork Program in the Governor’s announcement?
It’s two related parts of the unemployment eligibility programs that members could get access to for the furlough days in July. The first is an additional $600 per week in unemployment benefits for anyone eligible for partial unemployment. This money is from the CARES Act and runs through July 25. The second part is a SharedWork “threshold” program at Employment Security that makes it easier to be eligible for partial unemployment benefits and gets Washington State some reimbursement from the federal government for the cost of unemployment benefits. The State and the WPEA will need to come to agreement on how those furlough days in July work before the end of next week to make sure members can access those benefits. That agreement is where we’ll make proposals for things like staying within the 120 limits of the General Government contract, exemptions, and increased leave accruals.
Why is it always the rank and file, lowest paid employees, who have to be the ones paying?
Under the Governor’s plan, higher paid, non-union employees are taking the furlough days and not receiving a 3% raise.
At some Colleges, the administration is using CARES funds to mitigate faculty (instructor) furlough days. Why is this not being done fairly across the board?Each college has the independence and sole discretion to spend its funds. And most of the CARES Act money came with limitations on its use.
What are the mechanisms to stop the furloughs and return employees back to full days?
WPEA suspects the November 2020 revenue forecast will be the triggering mechanism.
WPEA can offer up triggering mechanism in our proposals but the state must agree to them.
On furlough days, what happens if there is emergency work to be performed by public employees, e.g. DNR wildland firefighters.
This may be the reason that DNR doesn’t participate in the furlough program, preferring to pay their employees rather than deal with the monumental bookkeeping mess that fire season can bring.
The 3% pay increase on July 1, 2020, will go to all state employees who are covered by a CBA. The Governor has decided not to open the CBAs to take the 3% increase out.
Members have commented that perhaps they should just not take the 3% if in fact what the state’s plan will do is take more than that. Someone else reminded everyone that once you receive that 3%, your salary will always be 3% higher going forward.
Members felt they should have been notified personally of the Governor’s plan instead of finding out on the news. OFM stated they have no control over the Governor’s use of the media.
We thank you for your patience while we gathered clarity on these subjects. WPEA will notify you of any new developments as they become available. Check back and visit our website at www.wpea.org.