PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The R.I. Department of Administration is now asking executive branch workers to take furlough days and utilize the Department of Labor and Training’s WorkShare program, billed as an “alternative to layoffs.”
According to Department of Administration Director Brett Smiley, if 25% of eligible workers in executive branch agencies take part, the state would save about $4.7 million.
That estimated total represents a small fraction of the House Fiscal Office’s projected budget deficit of nearly $900 million for the current and next fiscal years.
Under the WorkShare plan, employees would work 60% of their regular weekly hours and be eligible for unemployment benefits through the federal CARES act for the remaining hours, and also receive the $600 dollar a week WorkShare payment through the end of July.
The program would run from June 14 through Sept. 5.
“We’re able to provide an option for our employees without impacting their life economically,” Smiley said. “It’s not going to balance the budget but it’s a good start and it’s the right thing to do while we wait on more news out of Washington.”
Smiley acknowledged some lower-paid state workers will take home more when the $600 weekly payment is added to their checks, but he said that would change when that benefit expires at the end of next month.
Agencies under the executive branch include the Department of Children, Youth and Families (DCYF), the Department of Transportation (RIDOT), the Department of Health (RIDOH), the Department of Labor and Training (DLT), the Department of Corrections (RIDOC), the Department of Business Regulation (DBR), and the Department of Administration itself.
Employees in 24/7 agencies — first responders, direct care workers and anyone critical to the COVID-19 response — are not eligible, leaving about 4,000 eligible workers in the executive branch, according to Smiley.
Gov. Gina Raimondo also offered to expand the program to other branches of state government, as well as colleges and universities.
“It’s a voluntary program but I am asking, encouraging, as many employees to participate as possible because that will enable us to maximize our savings,” she said.
Late in the afternoon, House Speaker Nicholas Mattiello and Senate President Dominick Ruggerio took Raimondo up on the offer but removed the “voluntary” component for some employees.
“This will be mandatory for all full-time legislative employees who meet the salary guidelines,” a statement from their spokesmen said. “The Senate president and speaker encourage all branches of government that meet the requisite guidelines to participate as well.”
Smiley thanked the state workers’ unions and the DLT “for their support and assistance.”
J. Michael Downey, the president of AFSCME Council 94, said many of his 3,500 members will not be eligible but the ability to collect unemployment benefits made this program different from past state furloughs.
“I don’t see it as a furlough. Unlike the past, they won’t feel it now since they get unemployment benefits,” Downey said. “We hope it will lessen the burden we expect to face down the road.”
The state’s announcement comes after officials in the city of Providence said Monday they would start furloughs for some 500 members of the city’s workforce under WorkShare.
Ted Nesi and Steph Machado contributed to this report.