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Tens of thousands of state employees notified of potential layoffs

Beth LeBlanc
The Detroit News

Lansing — Michigan’s roughly 48,000 state employees received notices Monday of potential layoffs starting Oct. 1 in the event of a partial government shutdown.

The state expects the layoffs would apply to roughly 30,000 employees if the GOP-led Legislature and Democratic Gov. Gretchen Whitmer are unable to agree on a budget by midnight Sept. 30, said Kurt Weiss, a spokesman for the Department of Technology, Management and Budget.

Delores Baldridge of Detroit at the Secretary of State branch office at Cadillac Place in Detroit. State workers are being warned of potential layoffs.

“We did this as a courtesy to let folks know there is the potential for this, to give them some planning time,” Weiss said. “There’s no way now to know if it will happen and, if it does, how long it will last.”

The state still is determining which employees will be considered essential and exempt from the layoffs, but Weiss estimated the number would come to about 18,000 employees largely involved in law enforcement, prison and protective services.

Those employees considered essential will be notified Sept. 27 and would be paid for their work during a potential partial shutdown, Weiss said.

Department directors notified employees of the potential layoffs in an email sent around 10 a.m. Monday after a breakdown in budget negotiations last week between Whitmer and the GOP-led Legislature.

State leaders met for a few days last week after an agreement to postpone long-term road funding when Senate Majority Leader Mike Shirkey said Whitmer walked away from the negotiations over the Legislature’s insistence on an extra one-time boost of $500 million to road funding. Whitmer wants to use that money for other budget priorities while they continue to negotiate a long-term road funding fix.

Whitmer in March proposed a 45-cent-per-gallon fuel tax hike that would have given Michigan the highest rate in the nation. Republicans rejected the plan, but leaders say they remain committed to resuming road funding talks after the budget is finalized.

Republican-led conference committees on Thursday began advancing individual budget bills, including smaller funding increases than the governor had proposed for K-12 schools, community colleges and universities.

All parties hope to adopt a consensus budget before the Oct. 1 deadline. But with six scheduled legislative session days left, state departments are preparing for a missed budget deadline.

“Decisions around who will need to report to work on Oct. 1, if a shutdown occurs, are not an indication of the important work you do; it simply means your position may not be as closely associated with protecting the health and safety of Michigan residents as other positions,” State Budge Office Director Chris Kolb said Monday in the email to staff.

In an FAQ provided to employees, department directors told employees that a temporary layoff would remain in place for 20 days, then become an indefinite layoff in the subsequent days. Insurance coverage would continue during the temporary layoff period, but should the shutdown last longer than 20 days, state employees would be offered COBRA or some sort of continued coverage.

The last partial shutdown in 2009 lasted two hours. The previous 2007 shutdown took four hours. 

Employees would not be able to use accrued leave time to receive pay for a layoff day, even if an employee has vacation already scheduled for that day, according to the email.

Employees would still receive their Oct. 3 paycheck, plus a later paycheck for the first week of September on Oct. 17. However, people receiving a paper paycheck by mail could experience delays due to a lack of staffing.

Nonessential services expected to stop during a partial government shutdown would include any state lottery games, state road and bridge projects, services at Secretary of State branch offices, revenue sharing with local governments and any state parks or welcome centers.

The state expects the roughly 18,000 positions deemed essential would include corrections employees, state police, child protective services, medical employees and emergency response personnel.

The state would continue all public assistance programs during the shutdown, as well as the operation of the Mackinac, International and Blue Water bridges and continued debt payments.

State departments are expected to notify all vendors of a potential shutdown Sept. 26 and will inform essential employs to continue coming to work on Sept. 27. Closure signs at all non-essential buildings and facilities would be posted Sept. 30, along with an order shutting down state government.