Black Friday is an unpaid day for many state employees

It’s not the night before Christmas, but not a creature will be stirring in many state offices Friday. Employees can give thanks to budget cuts.

The departments of Commerce and Law, the governor’s office, state health lab, DMV offices, Permanent Fund Dividend offices, State Council on the Arts, DNR offices and Child Support Services Division will all be closed.

Each employee will be given the day off — without pay. They’re furloughed due to budget cuts negotiated with the state’s largest public employee unions.

“Some folks probably are not happy. Others … it may be a day they don’t mind taking,” said Jim Duncan, executive director of the Alaska State Employees Association.

With about 8,300 members, ASEA is the largest state employee union.

Last year, ASEA, the Alaska Public Employees Union and other state unions negotiated new contracts with the Alaska Department of Administration, which handles labor negotiations.

Included in those contracts is a requirement that each employee take 15 hours of unpaid leave per year — the equivalent of two days’ work.

“The unions we bargained with last year understood the fiscal crisis the state is facing,” said Sheldon Fisher, commissioner of the Department of Administration. “For the first time in most people’s memory, members of the state’s largest unions are taking 15 hours of furlough for the length of their contract. The unpaid furlough days will help the state save money — almost $7 million a year.”

The furlough program is new for unionized employees, but some of the state’s exempt and partially exempt employees have previously been required to take furlough days. In the Department of Administration and the Department of Law, non-union employees were furloughed on the day after Thanksgiving in 2015.

This year is the first time unionized employees will be furloughed.

“Furloughs is a whole new concept,” Duncan said.

Under the terms of the state’s agreement with the unions, employees can individually select unpaid furlough days or — with two weeks’ notice — the management of a department can announce a furlough day for all staff.

“Every case I’m aware of, they have complied with the two weeks’ notice,” Duncan said.

If employees are within five years of retirement, they can exchange 22.5 hours of leave for the furlough requirement. Other employees have to take the unpaid time, though they can cash in leave time to make up for the missed earnings.

Mara Rabinowitz, spokeswoman for the Department of Law, said even though the Department of Law will be closed on Friday, the court system will remain open in the morning for “time-sensitive proceedings” such as arraignments, bail hearings and children who need aid.

The court system is already working half-days on Fridays as a cost-cutting measure.

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