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Paying Overtime to Cover Furloughs

California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger
California Gov. Arnold Schwartzenegger

Talk about funny business.

Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger is signing a budget solution today which will at least buy California some time. Since the Assembly did not approve two measures to raise $1.1 billion for the state--mostly by taking transportation funds from local authorities--the Governor promises to use his line item veto to eke out more cost cuts.

One thing the Governor will not do is add a fourth unpaid furlough day a month for most state workers. They will still, however, have to take three days off a month through next June.

Are the furloughs really saving the state $1.3 billion in employee pay?

As I blogged yesterday, a CHP friend told me that CHP dispatchers are being furloughed and then being paid overtime to cover the furlough shifts. I called the California Highway Patrol but never heard back. CNBC did, however, speak with Tina Brazil, President of the CHP Dispatchers Association, who confirmed it is happening in some communications centers. "Some are so understaffed," she says. "We have to work overtime or public safety and officer safety would be at risk."

Brazil says there are requirements that you can't pay workers overtime to fill furlough time, "but there's no way around it in dispatch centers." She says the state wants the CHP's 25 dispatch centers to get as many furlough days taken care of sooner rather than later--certain agencies are being allowed to frontload furloughs. "That means anybody on vacation with time off scheduled is required by the state to use furlough time first."

Brazil says there are 800 CHP dispatchers in California. That's 200 more than a few years ago, but the department is still down over 100 positions. "We have smaller centers fully staffed or down just a few," she says, "but the Bay Area, for instance, is down 20 to 25 positions." Perhaps most surprising in this environment: "We are still hiring. They've told our supervisors to continue to hire." The job tops out at $4,562 a month (minus $600 for three furlough days), but Brazil says many dispatchers burn out after ten years.

I have yet to see proof that a person on a furlough day was called in to work AND paid overtime to work that day. But how much is the state saving if a scheduled worker is paid time and a half to cover at least part of an open shift? Granted the CHP is a unique agency, but I wonder if there are other state agencies claiming they are so short staffed it's imperative someone fill those slots, even if it means paying them overtime. Of course, you wouldn't see those costs in the budget bills signed today. On paper, the furloughs are saving the state 14 percent on salaries.

But in reality...

Questions? Comments? Funny Stories? Email funnybusiness@cnbc.com

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  • Based in Los Angeles, Jane Wells is a CNBC business news reporter and also writes the Funny Business blog for CNBC.com.

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