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AFSCME Florida standing up for state employees

Mark McCullough
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State workers feel short-changed on hurricane days James Call, Democrat Capitol Reporter 8:02 a.m. EDT September 14, 2016


If time off was requested when Leon County closed schools but before Scott closed state offices the next day, parents were forced to use vacation time. Childless workers got the time off for free.

State employees are crying foul. They say they were forced to spend 16 hours of annual leave during a declared state of emergency – taking care of school aged children when Hurricane Hermine struck.

The employees lost the vacation time even though Gov. Rick Scott had closed state offices part of Thursday, Sept. 1 and all of Friday, Sept. 2.

“If you had told your supervisor (prior to the email from the Governor on Thursday morning) that you would not be here Friday, even if it was due to schools being closed, you cannot use administrative leave for that absence,” stated an email circulated to Department of Health employees.

“This is really unfair to single moms,” said one worker. “What do you expect a single mom to do when she has less than 24 hours to find child care?”

State workers spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal. This is the story they tell.

Leon County Schools announced Wednesday, Aug. 31, there would be no school Thursday and Friday.  Any employee who immediately informed their supervisor they needed to take the two days off – before Scott announced Thursday state offices would be closed – was forced to spend 16 hours of annual leave while other workers got the time off for free.

“This is incredibly unfair. The only reason the schools were closed is the same reason the state offices were closed: an act of God, a hurricane,” said another worker. “It feels like a trap. They waited for us to spend the vacation time and then they closed the offices.”

The instructions given to Department of Education employees said: “If you were on pre-approved annual or sick leave OR if you requested permission to be on annual leave due to school closure or due to storm preparations you should be coding this to the appropriate leave type . . . all employees who were not pre-approved for leave, please use People First code 0045, administrative leave for office closure, starting at noon on Thursday 9/1/2016 and all day Friday 9/2/2016.”

The Governor’s office referred questions about the granting of administrative leave to take care of young children during a declared state of emergency to the Department of Management Services. DMS said it is looking into the issue.

State agencies appear to rely on a DMS administrative rule that says if an employee is on approved leave it can't be changed to administrative leave. The union representing state employees is encouraging Scott to review the issues workers raised.

“AFSCME Florida is supportive of the policy the governor has introduced that would allow our members to take administrative leave. We believe the intent of the policy should include those requests that were made before the policy was implemented,” said Andre J. Matdes, executive director of AFSCME Florida.

Ironically, sections B and H of Scott’s emergency declaration for Hermine issued on Sept. 2 would seem to provide agency heads the discretion to grant administrative leave. Section B addresses employees’ compensation, section H the closing of state buildings in an emergency.

Hurricane Hermine blew through Tallahassee early Friday morning Sept. 2. It battered the city with nearly 60 mph wind, knocking out electrical power to more than 70 percent of the city and blocking streets with fallen trees and other debris.