Mayor Daley and several of his allies on the City Council are asking the city’s police officers and fire fighters to take 24 furlough days next year. Once again an employer – in this case, city government – is looking to balance its books by asking its employees to sacrifice. More than all of the bank bailouts and layoffs, the hallmark of this recession will be how employers have been embolden in their ability to convince employees to work for less.
Isn’t it better to be furloughed for a couple of weeks – even four or five weeks – rather than be laid off? Let’s do the math again. Say a police officer makes $75,000 for the year, about $1,500 per week. Five weeks of furlough days would mean a salary cut of $7,500 for the year. How many families could balance their budget losing that much income? Moreover, how will these cuts affect morale?
Wall Street brazenly tells us that it must pay million dollar bonuses to keep its “talent.” What about the talent that works for city government? I’m sure the city is banking on the fact that many police officers and fire fighters will not want to leave one of the few jobs that offers a good pension. That incentive may keep many on the job. It will not make them work harder or happier. Don’t get me wrong. Public safety officers are dedicated people who will do their duty, but they will – and should be – bitter. Risk your life – and give back 10% of your pay.
Every business has priorities. For city government, what could be a higher priority than public safety? If this plan takes effect, it will be a matter of time before other departments are asked to take even more furlough days. Where will it end?
Whether the employer is public or private, the practice of asking employees to take days off without pay is wrong. Employers benefit more from furlough days because the company saves money and gets to keep its trained employees. When an employer lays off workers, there will be costs and time needed for hiring and training. Furlough days work well for employers. They win. Workers lose.