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Working In These Times

Tuesday, Feb 16, 2010, 7:21 am

Around the Country, State Employees Rally Against Furloughs, Pay Cuts

BY Emily Udell

State workers in West Virginia spent Presidents Day staging a rally at the capitol to ask for a $1,000 cost-of-living raise and better working conditions. Meanwhile, workers in California hope a bill advances that would ease some of their furlough pain.

As part of a plan to deal with California’s budget gap, state workers have given up three days of work per month, essentially cutting the pay of some 200,000 state employees by 14 percent. The future is uncertain for these workers, as Gov. Schwarzenegger has proposed to end the layoffs come June, but cut pay and payroll by 5 percent each.

The California state Senate Public Employment and Retirement Committee will hear the bill today. It is among more than two dozen bills aimed at fueling job creation in the state, and one of those that’s been received tepidly by Republicans, who want a jobs bill more focused on creating jobs in the private sector. It would affect jobs in revenue- and tax-collecting jobs.

The rally in West Virginia focused on a small cost-of-living increase and a smaller caseload for workers in the Department of Health & Human Resources.

"There's bigger issues to deal with, but we're having to beg for $1,000 a year," said Jay Miner, of the Bateman Chapter of the West Virginia Public Workers Union, UE Local 170. The demonstrators presented a 2,000-word petition of support to the governor. They also face health insurance premium hikes.

The Charleston, W.Va., public service workers are among those around the country have been staging protests in recent weeks in response to the looming threats of pay cuts, furloughs, retirement benefit losses, insurance increases and spending cutbacks that affect their jobs.

On February 4, county, city and schools workers in Detroit marched downtown to demonstrate their opposition to furloughs and pay cuts. The protest was spearheaded by AFSCME, which represents about 60,000 Michigan workers, after Wayne County Executive Robert Ficano announced that workers would have to take a day each week off without first negotiating with the union.

Furloughs are an increasingly common tactic being used by both government entities and companies to improve the bottom line. But it puts workers in perilous conditions because they often can’t apply for unemployment.

Jacqueline Price, a 12-year county veteran, told The Michigan Citizen:

It’s terrible. Ficano is calling a lay-off a furlough. We can’t file for unemployment, and we are only working 32 hours a week so we are no longer considered full-time employees.

Detroit city employees are facing a possible 10-percent pay cut. The demonstration in Michigan came just days after public-sector workers stormed the capitol in Santa Fe, N.M., to show their opposition to a proposed 2-percent pay cut for state employees and teachers.

Continental fleet service workers to join Teamsters

After more than a decade of attempting to join a union, nearly 8,000 fleet service workers at Continental Airlines have voted to join the Teamsters.  

“For far too long, Continental’s fleet service workers have gone without union representation, and that is now over. We will work with the fleet service workers to help them build a strong union and we will negotiate a solid contract,” said union president Jim Hoffa in a statement late last week.

The Teamsters already represent the mechanics at the airline, which is the nation’s fourth largest. The workers are operations, ramp and cargo employees.

Emily Udell is a writer for Angie’s List Magazine in Indianapolis. In 2009, she finished a stint drinking bourbon and covering breaking news for The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Ky. Her eclectic media career also includes time at the Associated Press, Punk Planet (R.I.P.), The Daily Southtown in southwest Chicago, and Radio Prague in the Czech Republic. She co-hosted and co-produced In These Times’ radio show “Fire on the Prairie” from 2003 to 2006.

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