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Western Continues Furlough Program

Western Illinois University
Western Illinois University

Some Western Illinois University employees were required to take unpaid days off in Fiscal Year 2016, and they will have to take more in the new fiscal year as the school tries to cope with a drastic decrease in state aid.

In the spring, Western instituted a furlough programfor all non-negotiated staff earning $40,000 and up.

An interview with Western's Budget Director Matt Bierman

Those workers had to take a minimum of 6 and up to 15 unpaid days off from work, corresponding to salary level. The deadline is June 30, 2016, which is the last day of Western’s fiscal year.

Budget Director Matt Bierman estimated the furlough program saved the university about $1.2 million.

So far in Fiscal Year 2016, Western has only received about 30% of its regular state appropriation. Additionally, the Illinois legislature has not passed any spending plan for the state or higher education for the Fiscal Year 2017, which begins July 1.

Furlough Schedule for Fiscal Year 2017:

  • $50,000 and more: 8 days
  • $40,000-$49,000: 6 days
  • Below $39,999: excluded

Bierman said the furlough program will operate similarly to the one imposed last spring. But he pointed out that there is a lower ceiling on the maximum number of days an employee can be furloughed.

“The numbers of days changed because we felt like the eight days which is anyone over $50,000 equals a 3.1% reduction in a salary or wage earnings, it felt like that was a reasonable number and place to be,” Bierman said.

He said those earning less than $40,000 were left out of the furlough program "...to not impact our lowest wage earners.”

In the spring, employees were also given the option to take a pay cut and continue working instead of taking furlough days. That will not be an option in the coming year.

Bierman said the pay reduction option was to help employees who couldn’t get away from the office with such short notice. But, he said it created more work for the Human Resources department in regards to time cards and payroll.

Western also highly discourages employees from working on furlough days. Bierman said that’s a liability issue and it could become a problem if someone gets hurt on the job on a day they technically on furlough.

“The point is, it’s unpaid time off. That’s how we are going to realize the savings so you should not be working on your furlough day,” Bierman said.  

For now, the furlough program through next fiscal year will only affect non-negotiated administrative and non-academic personnel.  But Western is waiting for approval from the state merit board to include non-negotiated civil service employees. Bierman said he expects that decision to come by early fall.

If approved, an additional 425 employees will be required to participate in furloughs for next fiscal year, equaling about $780,000 in savings. 

There are no union employees participating in furloughs for next fiscal year. But, Bierman said the administration is talking with negotiated employee bargaining units about the possibility.

TSPR: In the spring furloughs and layoffs went hand in hand… does this mean we are likely to see more layoffs coming?

Birerman: “This means we continue to evaluate our personnel situation. We passed a budget at the board meeting that was several million dollars short of revenue projections. So we are going to have to continue to make decisions that ensure the financial stability of the university. So, we have not ruled anything out. We do not have a list at this point of anyone who is going to be laid off. But, we continue to evaluate all of our operation to make sure we are operating efficiently and not in excess and if we have to go down that road we will certainly do that with great caution and understanding and compassion for our employees."

Bierman said the Fiscal Year 2017 furlough program is unlikely to change, even if the state passes a spending plan, unless the state budget provides something close to full funding for WIU.  

Copyright 2016 Tri States Public Radio

Emily Boyer is the Morning Edition host for Tri States Public Radio. She can be heard on-air from 6 to 9 weekdays.