State employees protest "Furlough Fridays"

August 7, 2009 6:32:20 PM PDT
Several state workers are staging a protest in Oakland against what has become known as "Furlough Fridays." State budget cuts in July prompted the governor to force state workers to take off three Fridays a month without pay for the rest of the fiscal year. They hope their message will be heard and furloughs will be ended before next year.

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Workers are telling the state, "stop spending more than you are taking in." They believe furloughs are a slippery slope solution for budget problems and it is causing them to really stretch to make ends meet.

"When I bought my home, I got a loan based off my pay; I got this loan, and my loan company is not going over and going, 'Yeah, I heard you got 15 percent furloughs, we're going to give you a break and lower your payments 15 percent," California Department of Public Health employee Joel Hughes said.

Fed up with Furlough Fridays, about a dozen employees from the state's Department of Public Health Richmond campus chose to spend their morning marching back and forth in front of the state building in Oakland.

They include lab assistants and maintenance engineers, all who say the mandated three days off a month are really straining them financially.

They are demanding the state find other ways than using their salaries to fix the budget.

Already members of California's largest state employee union have voted to authorize a strike. The Service Employees International Union (SEIU) has 95,000 state workers and plans to meet in the next few days to decide what to do.

"I think the governor is calling the bluff, you know, he don't think that we will strike; I really believe we will because everyone is tired, no one is happy, I don't have a problem with working four days a week, this works for me, but just keep my salary where it was originally," California Department of Public Health employee Jocelyn Odom said.

Workers say to add insult to injury, the Department of Public Health also sent out a memo last week saying it realizes employees may need to look for a second job, but that it must not pose a "conflict of interest;" so, a lab asst cannot go work part-time as a lab assistant for a hospital. The department of public health suggested they could work at places like Wal-Mart, Target or Kohl's.

The governor's office told ABC7 it sympathizes with the financial strains employees are going through, but also says that with more than 11 percent of California out of work, it is upset to hear state union workers with SEIU would even consider striking.

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