Note: This is part of a series of posts detailing the 2009 Pennsylvania budget impasse. To see all posts in this series, click here.
With no budget in place as of 5:30 this evening, it’s looking less and less likely that one will be passed in time to avoid paycheck interruption. Put simply, we’re about to go over the edge. If it’s any comfort, remember that there are 70,000 of us all the same boat. You are not alone.
I wanted to make this post because there is a tremendous amount of bad information floating around out there about what employees should and should not do when the paychecks stop. Just remember that I am not a lawyer, and this is not legal advice. This is merely my opinion. What you ultimately choose to do or not do is entirely up to you. I take no responsibility for your actions.
- DO NOT SKIP WORK. This is the most repeated suggestion I’ve heard in person and online, and it is by far the worst. If you decide not to go to work, you run the risk of facing disciplinary action. I understand and agree that it’s unfair for our employer to require us to work without pay (even delayed pay). It’s a violation of our labor agreement, it’s illegal, and it’s a bad-faith action on the part of the state. However, abandoning your job — even organizing an office-wide sick day — can weaken your pursuit for justice. If you run out of gas money or can no longer afford to come to work, then you’ve got to do what you’ve got to do. But do everything in your power to continue coming to work as long as possible.
- DO NOT REFUSE TO WORK. Showing up and refusing to do anything is as bad as not showing up at all. We’re all rightfully frustrated and angry, and in time we will get what’s due. But for right this moment, do your best to do the right thing. If we don’t, the state gains ground in arguing that we’re not due any wages because we failed to do our jobs.
- DO NOT FILE A COMPLAINT WITH THE PENNSYLVANIA DEPARTMENT OF LABOR & INDUSTRY. The state does not have the authority to bring suit against itself. To have any merit whatsoever, your complaint needs to be filed at the federal level with the regional office of the US Department of Labor. They can be reached at 570-826-6316 (Wilkes-Barre), 215-597-4950 (Philadelphia), or 412-395-4996 (Pittsburgh). Which brings me to my next item:
- DO NOT FILE A COMPLAINT UNTIL YOU MISS PAY. Until you actually receive a short paycheck, or until you miss a paycheck entirely, no violation of the Fair Labor Standards Act has actually occurred. Check your pay stub in ESS (SAP) and look for hours listed as “LWOP” (Leave Without Pay). If you have any listed this way, you were not paid for them, and the state is in violation. Without a violation, a complaint is meaningless.
- DO NOT TELL YOUR CREDITORS THAT YOU WON’T BE ABLE TO PAY THEM. Saying “sorry, I can’t pay you anymore” may get you immediately thrown into collections. Instead, call or (preferably) write your creditors and let them know what’s going on. Be sure to tell them that you intend to do your best to continue making payments, and ask for their help with whatever deferment or forbearance they can offer. Most creditors would rather let you pay $5 / month on your mortgage than lose your account entirely, if they know you’re in circumstances beyond your control.
- DO NOT COUNT ON YOUR UNION TO DO ANYTHING. AFSCME has only recently started updating its website daily with information about the impasse. Aside from that, they’ve asked us to hand out “AFSCME business cards” to local merchants. And that’s about it. They’ve also misquoted the AFSCME v Rendell lawsuit, rushing — oddly enough — to Rendell’s side on the issue. At the end of the day, you and you alone are responsible for your well-being.
- DO COMMUNICATE WITH YOUR SUPERVISOR. At my office, we all have great two-way working relationships with our management team. Lines of communication are wide open, and we’ve already discussed our concerns about the impasse. If worst comes to worst, a call to your supervisor letting him or her know that you won’t be in tomorrow because you can’t afford to put gas in your car goes a long way towards demonstrating that you’ve acted in good faith to execute your job duties for as long as possible.
- DO PLAY BY THE RULES. Even though the state is about to break the law and violate our rights, it is absolutely critical that we continue to take the high road. If you plan on going job-hunting, be sure to fill out your agency’s supplemental employment paperwork. Be sure it gets submitted properly, and wait for approval before doing anything. Is this fair? Absolutely not. But considering the doctrine of unclean hands, the best thing for our cause is to keep on playing by the rules.
- DO FILE A COMPLAINT WITH THE US DEPARTMENT OF LABOR. Because of the 10th Amendment, it’s very unlikely that a private lawsuit would be successful against the state. To seek justice under the Fair Labor Standards Act, you will need to enlist the help of the federal government. There are three regional offices serving Pennsylvania. Their contact information has been posted here repeatedly, and I’ll post everything again tomorrow.
- WHINE. COMPLAIN. YELL. CALL. FAX. EMAIL. BLOG. TWEET. SPEAK UP. REMEMBER. Governor Rendell said “no whining”. But our legislature and governor work for us. Demand that they stop their political pissing contest and put a budget in place RIGHT NOW! Do not accept “we’re trying” or “we’re working on it”. If the answer isn’t “we’re voting on it right now”, then they aren’t doing what we’re paying them a tremendous amount of money to do. And if that doesn’t work, vote against every incumbent when election time rolls around.
Remember that this impasse doesn’t just affect state employees. The spending power of 70,000 state employees is about to vanish overnight. And we’re not just talking about bureaucrats here — state troopers and prison guards are all on the no-pay list. Vendors aren’t getting paid for things like electricity, fuel, and rent. Area business owners are going to see a major hit on their income. Any one of these factors alone will be devastating — and they’re all about to hit at the same time.
Hang on tight — here we go.