President Lewis Reed and I recently announced that we will be taking unpaid two week furloughs from our jobs. Both of us intend to keep working, but neither of us will be paid for the time we are off. (Comptroller Darlene Green said she would study the matter.)
Our furloughs, and those of hundreds of other City employees, will — if the Board of Aldermen approves them save the City about $3 million next year, helping close a gap in the City’s budget without cutting essential services or increasing the number of necessary layoffs.
City employees are not alone. Thousands of other Americans are getting furlough notices these days. As of last month, about 8 million Americans across the country were working reduced hours or were on temporary furloughs as the result of economic conditions.
It is customary to note that being furloughed is better than being laid off, that being furloughed for a definite period is better than for an indefinite one, and that being furloughed as part of a real plan — like an annual budget — is better than a spur-of-the-moment management decision.
There are, however, a couple of caveats to those consolations.
First, the very fact that furloughs are being imposed at all suggests that all is not well in the City budget. If costs — like healthcare and pensions continue to rise while revenue grows more slowly (or, even, falls) as part of the permanent and dramatic changes happening to the national economy, there will likely be further furloughs — and layoffs — in the future.
Second, the decision to protect essential services means that two major municipal cost centers — the police department and the fire service — are not being furloughed for now. That will mean that the entire burden of savings will be borne disproportionately by other City employees and their families. It is imperative that those two departments use their resources with an eye to that fact.