Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Should a Lot Pay a Little or a Little Pay a Lot?

The Leggett administration recently proposed ten furlough days for all non-school and non-public safety employees, an idea bitterly resisted by MCGEO, which represents many of those employees. New data provided by County Council staff provides a way out, but it would involve spreading the pain over the entire workforce.

Council staff director Steve Farber wrote the following in a budget memo to the council:

The Executive proposes that except for public safety employees, full-time County Government employees be furloughed for 80 hours. The furlough for affected part-time employees would be prorated. The assumed savings is $15 million. Furloughed employees’ FYI1 pay would be reduced by 3.8 percent. The Executive first proposed five fixed furlough days and five floating days selected by the employee (subject to supervisor approval). He has since proposed that all ten furlough days be floating. OLO [Office of Legislative Services] is also reviewing the furlough plan…

The math of the proposed furlough is instructive. The 10 furlough days would apply to about 6,000 out of 9,000 County Government employees, chiefly those represented by MCGEO and nonrepresented employees, with each day saving $1.5 million. One furlough day for all four tax-supported agencies would save $9.9 million - $2.3 million for County Government, $6.7 million for MCPS, $0.6 million for the College, and $0.3 million for M-NCPPC. Thus the $15 million savings goal could also be achieved by furloughing the 30,000+ employees of all four County agencies for 1.5 days each. This change would require collaboration with the police and firefighters unions in County Government and the unions and governing boards of MCPS, the College, and M-NCPPC.

The argument against this approach is understandable reluctance, especially in this year of pay freezes. The argument for it is that this is the time to break the mold for the sake of the larger community. Cases of school and public safety employees taking furloughs without disrupting services abound nationwide -for example, in Anne Arundel (schools) and Prince George's (public safety) Counties.

The issue is not the ability to do so but the will to do so. If the entire workforce agreed to take a 0.6 percent salary hit for 1.5 furlough days, then one-fifth of the workforce - including the people who help clear the snow, drive the buses, clean the buildings, and care for the poor and disabled - would not have to take a 3.8 percent hit. To protect lower-wage employees at all agencies, the furlough could be progressive, with high-wage employees absorbing more of the burden. This would be a powerful message of solidarity and community.
MCGEO’s salary analysis shows just how low-paid some of the county employees targeted for furloughs really are. Here are a few county government wage scales for some of the affected classifications:

Security Guard: $35,900
Account Clerk, Journey Level: $33,100
Library Aide: $33,100
Office Support Specialist, Journey Level: $33,100
Secretary, Journey Level: $33,100
Data Entry Operator, Journey Level: $29,400
Laborer, Heavy: $28,200
Warehouse Worker, Journey Level: $28,200
Custodian: $27,200
General Clerk, Journey Level: $24,200

Should these workers be targeted for ten days of lost pay? Or should everyone give up 1.5 days to spare the poorest employees in the county workforce?