State should make furlough days apply to all employees

Written by Observer editorial September 29, 2011 08:01 pm
Public employees took a lot of heat from a lot of people over the course of the past several months for the benefits they enjoy and the cost to the government. The public needs to realize that most public employees, though, especially those in bargaining groups, gave up a considerable amount in these last few rounds of contract negotiations, ranging from pay freezes and more furlough days to picking up portions — or in some cases bigger portions — of their health care benefits. We’ve seen in the past few weeks both the Service Employees International Union 503, representing classified employees, settle a contract with the Oregon University System. La Grande’s teachers also settled a contract with the La Grande School District. The employees showed that they were willing to make sacrifices, just as those of us in the private sector have done over the past couple of years.

The settlements with the state, however, have pushed the cost of wage and benefit increases beyond the 6 percent the state had budgeted for 2011-13. The state estimates that the cost will be closer to 7 percent. What the public needs to realize, though, is that while the university system’s classified staff members will be joining the ranks of many other state employees taking furlough days during the next two years, there remain some employees and administrators not affected by the furloughs. Making up the extra percentage in the budget shortfall would not have to rely on cuts to state services if furlough days were to be extended to all state employees, including administrators.

The state has made an effort to rein in escalating costs, but it still has a long way to go. It needs to make sure that the concept of “shared sacrifice’’ applies to everyone regardless of their position. The University of Oregon recently flew in the face of efforts to rein in costs when it granted raises of 5 percent to 30 percent for faculty and some administrative positions. Shared sacrifice?

There is more money that can be saved in state government without taking the shortfall out of the services that agencies provide if the governor would insist — or mandate — that there will be no exceptions to the requirement of taking furlough days; that all state employees will be sharing in the sacrifice.

So far that hasn’t happened. But a relatively painless solution is available if state government is serious about regaining its credibility with the public.