By David Warrick
As a second mandatory unpaid day off approaches for Kentucky's state workers, questions about the efficacy and harmful effects of the commonwealth's furlough plan remain unanswered.
Personnel Cabinet Secretary Nikki Jackson recently updated lawmakers on the status of state employee furloughs, and according to her, so far everything has been "smooth sailing."
Talk to the frontline workers — those who protect abused children, rehabilitate juvenile offenders and who process unemployment benefits and food stamps in this unparalleled economic recession — and you will hear a different story altogether.
Talk to Terri Richardson, a family support specialist in Estill County who herself almost qualifies for the public assistance benefits she works hard to provide to others.
"We are already completely overwhelmed with clients. With these furloughs, the work doesn't go away. It just means a family in crisis may go without food on the table because we aren't there to help," says Richardson.
And then there is the question of the savings.
Again to lawmakers, Jackson stated that this furlough plan will save the commonwealth $24 million.
That's right, the state is holding steady to this same mysterious figure even after reversing course last month and deciding to exempt thousands of public-safety and law-enforcement personnel from furloughs.
AFSCME members and frontline workers pointed out problems with the state's furlough math over a month ago.
For example, how will the state save any money if overtime pay must be used to cover a furlough day in an understaffed juvenile justice facility?
We have received information from juvenile justice employees that exactly that has been happening in many facilities across the state. Or, even worse, they are running dangerously short-staffed because overtime has been forbidden.
Jackson and this administration talk a lot about their appreciation for the hard work performed by Kentucky's public servants, particularly during these times of extreme budget cuts and "lean government."
A gesture of true appreciation would be to listen to these employees, who were in no way, shape or form consulted before or after this furlough plan was announced.
Although the average frontline state worker makes a fraction of the salary of a Frankfort decision-maker, the worker's insight and experience regarding how furloughs are actually affecting Kentuckians are far more valuable.
And chances are, the story they will tell you about furloughs and performing public service in these economic times will be anything but smooth sailing.
David Warrick is executive director of AFSCME Council 62, which represents over 8,000 Kentucky state employees in health and family services and justice and public safety.