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State Employee Unions Say Overtime Undercuts Furloughs

Amy Radil

Many state offices are closed today (Friday). It's the second of 10 state employee furloughs. The state employees union is fighting the furloughs, and says overtime costs will likely swamp any savings. State officials insist that they'll keep a tight lid on overtime use. KUOW's Amy Radil reports.


The first Washington state employee furlough occurred on July 12. In one state office, an employee with the Department of Social and Health Services — who asked that his name not be used — said the furlough was barely over when offers of overtime began circulating by email.

DSHS: "The overtime was a chance to work some of the backlog that existed before the furlough, in addition to the items that went undone because of the furlough day."

In one email, his supervisor noted that the office had been granted 80 hours of overtime for the month. Employees who worked overtime were paid 1 1/2 times their usual salary. This employee says the furloughs are unfair — only about a quarter of state employees are being forced to take them. And then with overtime, he says only certain employees get to recoup their lost salary.

DSHS: "Overtime is a sweet thing. I love to get overtime too. But if you're really serious about saving money and doing it in a way that shares the burden equally with everybody, you come out and say no state employee qualifies for overtime during this period of time."

Union officials predict that overtime will jeopardize the state's anticipated $40 million dollar savings from furloughs, as it has in Oregon. They say state services could be cut even more deeply as a result. The state's Office of Financial Management is the enforcer, charged with making sure agencies don't use overtime to counteract the furloughs.

Kuper: "If we see a dramatic spike in a certain agency or overall, that will definitely get our attention and we'll try to figure out what happened and why."

Glenn Kuper is the Office of Financial Management spokeman. He says by mid–August agencies will turn in their reports of overtime use. And his office will check on whether each agency is on track to save money.

Kuper: "It will be evident if they're not going to reach that goal. So we're going to make sure that everybody's on track and if they're not on track we'll work with them to make sure they're able to get that savings."

Kuper notes that overtime use by the state has been declining since 2007, so any increases will be noticeable. He says some emergencies, like wildfires, could justify overtime pay. But agencies that don't save money through their furloughs will have to cut their budgets elsewhere.

I'm Amy Radil, KUOW News.

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