We’ve been hearing about it for months. First, with dread—how does one make ends meet after losing two days of pay in every pay period for several months? How do you plan for a sudden twenty percent cut in pay?
As soon as furloughs were announced the rumors started to fly. First 22 days of furlough, then 14 days of furlough, then some people would be exempted…maybe I will be one of them? Then the final word and the dreaded letter signed by my boss. Just removing the uncertainty, as ugly as it is, was a relief.
Eleven days of furlough. One day per week for eleven weeks. Still a twenty percent cut in pay. Still painful but for a shorter period of time and that time is almost upon us.
Through all the uncertainty, all the rumors, all the political talk, all the back and forth, the reality of furlough is I get an extra day a week to myself for eleven weeks. At this point I’m almost looking forward to it.
Sure, I’ll be broke. I’ll bring my lunch to work. I’ll be smarter about my grocery shopping. I might even stay home more often to use less gas, walk more, try to cure myself of my one-click-aholic problem and buy fewer books. It’s eleven weeks. I can live through it, right?
The frightening thing is, even after we get through the eleven weeks of furlough, congress seems no closer to figuring out what to do about the budget now than they did months ago. Come October, we’ll be faced with a new fiscal year, the possibility of more budget fights and the almost permanent uncertainty. More pay freezes, more hiring freezes, more furloughs, perhaps even RIFs or Reduction In Force, which is the fancy way of saying layoffs. In short, more of the same.
By this time, most of my coworkers are looking forward to the furlough days. We need a rest. Our offices have been operating with such short staffs we can barely function. My office, once authorized 14 people, was reduced to seven earlier this year due to budget reductions. Since some have left for greener pastures and because of the hiring freeze, we’ve been unable to fill those positions. We’re now down to five. Five people trying to do the work 14 did at one time. Five.
Sure, the leadership says we have to stop doing some things, we have to learn to say no, we have to do less with less. But nothing changes. Expectations stay the same and each day we go into the office knowing it is literally impossible to meet those expectations.
It should also be said, that while I and some people I know can take it on the chin, spend a little less and still get by, there are lots of furoughed employees who are already barely getting by. They don’t make much money. They have families and responsibilities and eleven days of furlough will ruin them. Literally ruin them. They deserve much better.
But for me, if I don’t get some furlough time, I just might go crazy. Not only will we get an extra day off each week, working overtime is prohibited during furlough. No more staying at the office ten or eleven hours a day attempting to do the impossible. No more hovering over the Crackberry all weekend. The reality is things will not get done and if congress is okay with that, what can I do about it?
A friend of mine is planning to hold a First Furlough Friday party. I’ll be there. We won’t have much to celebrate, but like a hurricane party, if the disaster is coming, you might as well surround yourself with good music, good food and friends to face it.