State worker: Furloughs could put Nevadans in danger

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David Calvert/The Nevada Independent, Pool

COVID-19 related safety protocol signage inside the Nevada Legislature on the second day of the 31st Special Session in Carson City, Nev., on Thursday, July 9, 2020. (David Calvert/The Nevada Independent)

Sat, Jul 11, 2020 (8:37 p.m.)

CARSON CITY — Robert Borchardt, who has worked 22 years for Nevada, lost his house during the Great Recession of the late 2000s because of the decrease of income caused by state-worker furloughs.

About 10 years later, more furloughs are being considered by lawmakers as Nevada tries to overcome a $1.2 billion budget deficit caused by the coronavirus crisis. The impact for Borchardt, who is raising his family on a single income, would be devastating.

“Nevada employees are your first line of defense to protect Nevada,” Borchardt said in public comment Saturday during a special session of the Nevada Legislature to address the budget. “We are already shorthanded at work. Furloughs and pay cuts would further place Nevadans and tourists in danger.”

Lawmakers in the Assembly, on the fourth day of the session, took up a bill that would impose a furlough day a month and freeze merit pay increases for state employees, which could save the state $66 million for the fiscal year that began July 1.

The hearings, which lasted most of Saturday afternoon, came a day after it was announced a person who had been in the legislative building tested positive for coronavirus. It’s unclear who tested positive for the virus.

Twelve members of the Assembly and one senator participated in the proceedings remotely Saturday. The session returns Monday.

Many members of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Local 4041, including Borchardt, spoke out against the bill through teleconferencing.

Union leadership has said Gov. Steve Sisolak made the furlough proposal without bargaining with workers, and the union filed an unfair labor practice complaint in June. Sisolak and union officials met twice in the days immediately prior to the start of session, but did not come to an agreement. Union officials have gone public with their displeasure, which Sisolak is not happy with.

“We did whatever we could to help (the union),” Sisolak said earlier in the week. “I thought I had a good relationship with them. I’m disappointed in the avenue that they’ve chosen to go down.”

Many of the longer-serving state employees who called in to comment brought up the financial squeeze they felt during the last round of furloughs and pay freezes during the recession.

Some lawmakers, including Democratic Assemblywomen Daniele Monroe-Moreno, D-North Las Vegas, and Heidi Swank, D-Henderson, expressed concern that the furloughs could disproportionately impact the lowest-paid employees.

There are some exemptions.

If an agency can show that a position is necessary for “public health, safety and welfare,” the person in the position can instead take a 4.6% pay cut. Employees of the Department of Tourism and Cultural Affairs are also exempted, as their standard workweek is 32 hours.

Bryan Lamm, a Department of Transportation worker, said that budget crunches always come down on the back of state workers. He works hard, he said, and has felt the sting of furloughs in the past. Like Borchardt, Lamm said he has lost a house due to furloughs in the past.

“I’ve already lost one house over this and I don’t want to do it again,” he said. “It is not fair.”

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