State workers turn up political heat on Beshear over furloughs

08/06/2010 11:55 PM

A pubic employee union took its concern about planned state government furloughs to the courts and to the media Friday, ramping up the political pressure on Gov. Steve Beshear over the cost-saving measure.

The Association of Federal, State, County and Municipal Employees and six state workers filed an injunction Friday morning in Franklin Circuit Court to block the furlough plan.

Specifically union leaders say they are concerned about the effects on corrections department officials and social workers whose ranks already are spread thin.

Later, union representatives, joined by some state workers and several Democrat lawmakers, addressed the media outside the Kentucky Dam Village’s convention center. Beshear and other Democratic officials, including U.S. Senate candidate Jack Conway spoke Friday evening at a Democratic Party fund-raiser on the eve of the Fancy Farm picnic.

“We are saying ‘No’ to furloughs on essential services,” said Sheila Patrick, a social worker in the child protective services agency from Meniffee County.

Beshear told cn|2 Politics that his administration doesn’t have any plans to exempt any agencies from the furloughs. But officials are still working out the details for implementing them, specifically to “sensitive areas,” such as corrections.

“While furloughs aren’t good, they’re a lot better than the alternative,” Beshear said, referring to potential layoffs.

“We haven’t made any final decisions about how to implement the furlough policies in those areas,” he said, adding that he does want to avoid “anyone suffering any more than they have to” as well as the state incurring additional costs by having to pay overtime to make up for furloughed workers.

Several of the state workers, including corrections officer Chris Valandingham from the Little Sandy Correctional Complex, approached Beshear Friday evening after a Democratic state Senate caucus fund-raiser at Kentucky Dam Village. Valandingham pleaded his case that the corrections officers already are working overtime to keep all of the posts filled, so furloughing them would only increase the extra payments and overtax the corps of officers.

Beshear listened and politely told Valandingham and the others that he would take that into consideration.

One of the lawmakers who spoke in support of the workers, Rep. John Will Stacy, the Democratic House whip from West Liberty, stopped short of criticizing Beshear but said he disagreed with the administration taking a blanket policy. He said the General Assembly approved language that allowed Beshear to exempt certain agencies that provide necessary services.

“This has to be thought through a little better,” he said.

Last month, Beshear’s administration announced its plan to close state agencies for three Fridays before holiday weekends during fiscal year 2011: Sept. 3 (before Labor Day weekend), Nov. 12 (before Veterans Day weekend) and May 27 (before Memorial Day weekend). In addition all state workers, of which there are more than 30,000, will have to take one day of unpaid leave during October, March and June.

The administration has estimated that the measures will help save $24 million. It was one of a host of government cost-savings measures and budget reductions used to balance the 2011-2012 budget that the General Assembly approved in May.

- Ryan Alessi


Subscribe to email updates.

Subscribe and get the latest political intelligence delivered to your inbox.