Furloughs may not fly with county union workers

EVERETT — Unions representing Snohomish County workers might balk at taking unpaid furlough days next year, saying the county hasn’t done enough to find money elsewhere.

The 2010 county budget that passed earlier this month relies on county workers taking off five days without pay, the equivalent of about a 1.9 percent salary cut.

Unions have to agree, though.

That’s not looking likely.

“There’s no shared sacrifice,” said Chris Dugovich, president of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees’ Council 2. “We solved their problems last year.”

The union represents just over two-thirds of the county’s 2,700 employees.

In March, workers agreed to 11 furlough days as an emergency measure to help the county shave millions from its 2009 budget. That cost each member more than 4 percent of their salary. They also agreed to a wage freeze in 2010. Furthermore, union employees would not have to negotiate more cuts in 2010 unless county revenues fell by 2.5 percent, which they haven’t.

Not all county employees took the same hit this year.

The union argues that elected officials didn’t lose any salary. A commission sets the salary for elected officials, but Dugovich said elected officials could have just written a check back to the county for 5 percent of their pay. Many of the county’s elected officials, including county councilmen, did in fact give up their vehicle allowances.

Patrol and corrections deputies were exempt from furloughs in 2009 because unpaid days off would create problems with overtime and safety.

“This can’t just be us,” Dugovich said. “They come at us again and again. They’re not sharing the pain.”

In the County Council’s 2010 budget, those public safety employees were supposed to take the same hit to their paychecks — without days off to compensate.

It turns out that won’t be necessary. The Snohomish County Sheriff’s Office expects to trim its budget without layoffs or pay decreases for patrol or corrections deputies, spokeswoman Rebecca Hover said. Sworn deputies won’t have to take furloughs, only nonlaw-enforcement employees at the sheriff’s office will have to take them.

Part of the sheriff’s office savings come from 19 budgeted deputy positions that will not be filled, Hover said.

Had they been necessary, furloughs would not have gone over well with the guild that represents 210 corrections deputies.

“That’s not something I would take to my members,” guild president Andy Pierce said. “They’re not really that interested in five furlough days.”

An earlier version of the 2010 budget from County Executive Aaron Reardon called for 15 furlough days, or about a 5.7 percent pay cut for all employees. Reardon said it was a simple choice between a pay cut and losing 100 county jobs.

The County Council later drafted an alternative plan that ended up passing with five furlough days, or only a third of what Reardon suggested.

Reardon’s office is negotiating with the unions and declined to comment, spokesman Christopher Schwarzen said Monday. More than 100 budgeted positions in the county budget are being held open right now because of a hiring freeze, which would continue in 2010.

If workers don’t agree to furloughs, departments will have to find other ways to compensate, County Council Chairman Mike Cooper said. That would come on top of department-by-department savings already built into the budget.

“The actual number of layoffs would be up to each department,” Cooper said. “The reason I worked so hard to get (the pay cut) down to 1.9 percent is I thought that was a reasonable sacrifice for people to make. A 2 percent concession is a small price to pay to keep people at work.”

Each countywide furlough day saves about $450,000, Cooper said.

Another issue for AFSCME is that the county is asking for the cuts, even though they declined to raise property taxes, Dugovich said. Councilmen voted down a 3 percent raise to property taxes by 3-2, with Cooper and Councilman Brian Sullivan in the minority supporting the increase. Another sore point for the union is the relatively few cuts to nonessential services such as parks.

Councilman Brian Sullivan said the union made some good points.

“I hope the council as a whole listens to them,” he said.

Existing county savings and side effects of the state’s $2.6 billion budget gap could pose problems in the months ahead, Sullivan warned.

“We may face layoffs anyway,” he said. “Those numbers have yet to be worked out. This will all come home in the first quarter of the new year.”

Noah Haglund: 425-339-3465, nhaglund@heraldnet.com.

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