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DMV takes day off

Unpaid 'furlough Fridays' will reduce state budget, employee income

Posted: February 7, 2009 1:29 a.m.
Updated: February 7, 2009 4:55 a.m.
 

Local legislators say the state's employee furlough days are unfortunate but necessary, while union members are troubled about lost wages and reduced services in such trying economic times.

"It's nothing that anyone wants to do, but the reality of the budget situation is we have to take these steps," said state Assemblyman Cameron Smyth, R-Santa Clarita, who called the temporary furloughs a "last resort."

The plan, which proposes to close most state offices on the first and third Fridays of every month until June 30, 2010, is expected to save $1.3 million over the next 18 months.

Santa Clarita's DMV is one of the 180 DMV facilities that closed Friday because of the first furlough day.

While local residents will have to deal with the frustration of limited days of DMV services, the plan will not have as much impact as it will in other areas considering that the city does not have a large number of state employees, Smyth said.

Smyth, who has not received any calls from residents complaining about the furlough days, suggests that state workers keep in mind the situation could be much worse.

Thousands of Californians who are losing their jobs would love to be in the position of the state employees, who only lose two paydays each month, he said.

"As uncomfortable as furloughs are, it's better than layoffs," Smyth said. "As Californians get used to the new schedule, people will adjust."

State Sen. George Runner, who represents a majority of Santa Clarita Valley, also said the furloughs were necessary because of the state's $42 billion debt.

"You cannot continue to spend the way that we are spending," Runner said. "There are adjustments that you have to do during tough economic times."

Union spokesman Jim Zamora said the furlough plan could have been better executed.

The union sent Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a more "flexible" plan last week that would have eased the pain of the cuts for workers, Zamora said.

One suggestion was to cut worker's days and pay, but instead of forcing employees to take two Fridays off a month, the plan said the state should let the furlough days accumulate and give the employees time off all at once.

That option, he said, would create something similar to vacation time, allowing employees to spend it with their families.

Another alternative was to offer an early retirement deal, which Zamora predicted would have led to 10,000 to 15,000 retirements from the state's estimated 238,000 state employees affected by the furlough plan.

The money saved from early retirement option could have led to less furlough days, Zamora said.

"We were going to take a pay cut regardless," Zamora said. "What we were trying to do was take less of a pay cut."

The governor did not respond to the union's proposals, but Zamora hopes there is still a chance for negotiation.

"We would love to have him call," Zamora said. "Our lines are open."

Runner said the best advice for Santa Clarita's DMV customers dealing with fewer days of DMV services is to be aware of the new schedule.

"Everybody should just be aware of what the new schedule is and just try to accommodate their business hours around it," he said.

The furlough plan does not close certain critical or revenue-generating agencies, such as fire stations, parks or employment centers.

Department of Motor Vehicles employee Frances Davis worries about the chaos she will face when she returns to work on Monday after the state's first Friday closure.

"We as employees are more concerned about the public because they don't realize how bad they need the DMV," said Davis, who works as a motor vehicle field representative in Simi Valley. The public is going to come in angry because they are late on their registrations."

Davis was one of 25 DMV employees from 10 different offices who volunteered their forced day off to greet unexpected customers in the pouring rain at the a closed DMV facility in downtown Los Angeles.

The volunteers, who are also members of the labor union Service Employees International Union handed out flyers about the furlough plan. Davis said people who did not know about the furlough were upset to find closed doors.

"A lot of people were angry," she said. "Friday is one of the busiest days for the DMV. People take the day off to come in on Fridays."

Davis also said the closures would affect employees who are already struggling financially.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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