California worker furloughs hit state already at economic low

SACRAMENTO — An unpaid holiday for its largest employer was the last thing Sacramento needed Friday.

Already suffering under 8.7 percent unemployment, the region endured its first day of state-worker furloughs. Most state offices stayed closed, while an appeals court denied a last-ditch union petition to block the furloughs.

The effect was immediate. Traffic was light through much of downtown and midtown Sacramento, where tens of thousands of employees normally congregate, and business was down at numerous restaurants and stores.

"It's tough to be a small business downtown, and for them to take out a Friday," said Ryan Rose, manager at Zocalo restaurant east of the Capitol. Friday is usually his busiest day for lunch, and though business was better than he feared, it was lighter than usual.

Friday showed that no sector of the economy is fail-safe, even one that usually buffers Sacramento against the turmoil of the private sector. The furloughs represent a 10 percent pay cut for 83,000 in the Sacramentan region, and more than 200,000 workers across the state.

Many have been tightening their belts since Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger issued his order in December.

"We've cut down our cable TV package, canceled Netflix and our cleaning service," said Mike Whiteside, a Caltrans engineer who works at the agency's N Street office. "I want to buy a new computer, but that's out." He's also postponed a major landscaping project.

The unions are continuing to challenge the furloughs' legality in court, even though the 3rd District Court of Appeal rejected an attempt to block Friday's furloughs filed by the California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges and Hearing Officers in State Employment. The court ruled the attempt came too late.

Schwarzenegger ordered the furloughs to help plug a projected $40 billion budget deficit. Unless blocked by the courts, the furloughs will occur the first and third Friday of every month, through June 2010.

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