Jean Jones, deputy director of civil service, admits it's a staggering amount, which has only been slightly offset by the addition of contract employees. "But it's only a small part of a larger impact the state has felt over the past year," she says. "We certainly saw a reduction as a result of Katrina and Rita, but people left and were laid off because of closures. Just at [New Orleans'] Charity Hospital alone we lost thousands of workers."
Jones says that's no reason to shift into panic mode. The department implemented a workforce training program several years ago to deal with dips in staffing, and the public needs attached to the vacant jobs are being assessed daily. "Even though we couldn't predict this would happen, we were ready to deal with it," Jones says.
James C. Garand, a professor of political science at Louisiana State University who researches state government operations, says the state's human resources administrators should be siding with caution. "This could become a bigger problem than ever before, depending on the circumstances," he says. "State governments should always be concerned about turnover. It needs to be investigated in a major way, especially now since state government is competing for jobs in a more serious way against the private sector."
Jones says there are two main areas of state recruitment presently lacking: nursing and the medical field, which have traditionally been problem spots, and, more recently, skilled trade, such as wielders and pipe-fitters. "We have got to become more aggressive in hiring skilled trade," Jones says. "There's just so much work for them right now in the areas that are rebuilding." Each state department has some flexibility in setting pay rates to be more competitive and many are exploring those options.
There's also the fear of losing experienced workers and institutional knowledge. Some states are facing situations where the bulk of their retiring workforce is also the most seasoned, which leaves a substantial learning curve. Louisiana won't face that for several years, Jones says, at least until baby boomers begin their mass exodus. For now, the state has instituted a mentoring program to prepare for that day.
Still, re-filling positions on the state level can be expensive, and Louisiana has no shortage of turnover these days. One study by the American Management Association pegs the cost at 30 percent of that particular position's annual salary. Another survey by LSU placed it at $25,000 per public vacancy for protective services including corrections officers, wildlife agents and policeman ' all positions that Jones says are regularly empty.
This isn't the first time state government has been swamped by massive workforce losses. In 1999, Louisiana lost more than 13,600 workers in one fiscal year. Most were young workers, with less than five years each under their belts. The following year lawmakers proposed leaving the spots unfilled as a way to downsize government, but nearly all of the positions were replaced with new hires. Jones says there is no effort under way to weed out any jobs, other than the usual early retirement program.
Some critics argue a large number of government jobs would never be eliminated if not for unforeseen events, such as Katrina and Rita. Joseph Coletti, a fiscal policy analyst at the John Locke Foundation, a North Carolina-based nonprofit, has studied state employee issues and concludes that the public sector appeals to people who prefer stable pay and benefits over substantive work. That's because underperforming employees often slide by and are able to retain their jobs despite expectations. "The difference is the state rewards poor performers and the private sector rewards its top performers," he says.
Jones admits that the longest-running tall tale associated with state government is that it's nearly impossible to fire poor performers on the taxpayer dole. Her department even teaches a class on the topic to upper management and publishes a packet of related information. "I think it is a myth, but it is a popular myth, too," she says. "But there's a constant push to do the same work with fewer people, and you can get fired."
Over the past three years, 5,651 people have been "involuntarily separated" from their jobs with the state, Jones says, of which only 26 were reversed by the Civil Service Commission, a seven-member body that hears appeals. In comparison, major corporations that have overseen roughly 93,000 employees at one time or another like Louisiana ' Bank of America, DuPont, Johnson & Johnson, Wachovia ' have been known to lay off more workers in a single year and still report record profits.
Regardless of how the state's vacancies are treated in coming months, Jones argues there's no reason yet to be concerned about the trend, especially since jobs have largely been left vacant in areas where public needs no longer exist, like in parts of Orleans and St. Bernard parishes. As such, state officials consider everything under control. "Not all of those job vacancies need to be replaced yet," Jones says. "It is somewhat of a concern, but it's too early to tell. It's an event that isn't going to happen every year. I think that's why we aren't in a crisis."
It’s been just over four months since attorney Barry Domingue committed suicide the morning before he was to stand trial for a second day in the federal Curious Goods case, leaving his fellow attorney/co-defendant Daniel Stanford with a temporary mistrial and awaiting his day in court.
Candidates for Louisiana's Nov. 4 election must officially sign up for the ballot this week.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's effort to derail Louisiana's use of the Common Core education standards was halted Tuesday by a state judge who said the governor's actions were harmful to parents, teachers and students.
New Orleans Saints running back Mark Ingram isn't letting a humbling start to his pro career lower his opinion of what he can still accomplish in the NFL.
Phoenix flooding stuns residents; Gaza truce talks collapse, NFL vets defy age label and more national and international news for Wednesday, August 20, 2014.
Wednesday's Blogs from the Bog!
Visualize Lafayette’s next great thing from 3,000 feet.
A Baton Rouge judge issued a temporary restraining order Monday against enforcing a law that prohibits anyone 70 or older from running for justice of the peace or constable.
Gov. Bobby Jindal believes the last-minute passage of a pension hike for his state police superintendent, Col. Mike Edmonson, was improperly handled, according to the governor's office.
As the courts hash out the attempts to preserve and shelve Common Core in Louisiana, a group of six state lawmakers are planning an Aug. 22 trip to Oklahoma to meet with their counterparts and strategize for the 2015 regular session.
While hopes are high for turnout this fall, a new report from the Center for the Study of the American Electorate suggests that Louisiana's midterm face-offs may amount to nothing special in terms of votes cast.
The attorney hired by the Lafayette Parish School Board for a special investigation of Superintendent Pat Cooper has submitted his final report, though it may be another week before the findings are made public.
The Tea Party of Louisiana is calling Sen. David Vitter a “turncoat” for his newfound embrace of Common Core educational standards.
An annual report evaluating Gov. Bobby Jindal's privatization of Medicaid lacked important financial information and presented rosy performance reviews not corroborated by data, according to a review released Monday.
Lafayette attorney Michelle Meaux-Breaux has announced her plans to seek the Division E seat for judge in the 15th Judicial District.
A card-carrying member of Lafayette’s “tribe,” Milton “Spider” Guidry died over the weekend. IND music writer Nick Pittman remembers the character and the man.
As tensions continue to escalate in Ferguson, Mo., between law enforcement and residents protesting the shooting death of a local teen by police, we’re reminded of the peculiar circumstances surrounding the in-custody death earlier this year of a New Iberia man.
A group of teachers and parents who support Common Core is asking a state judge to invalidate Gov. Bobby Jindal's actions against the multi-state education standards.
Drew Brees walked up to the line of scrimmage early Sunday, taking a snap during the New Orleans Saints' pre-practice walk-through.
A state judge Friday refused a temporary injunction sought against state education officials in an effort to block implementation of the Common Core education standards in Louisiana.
UL was the consensus pick in a coaches' preseason poll to win the league, and experience has a lot to do with that.
The price tag has nearly doubled for Gov. Bobby Jindal's hiring of an outside consulting firm to recommend new ways to balance the state budget.
U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu is under scrutiny for billing private chartered planes to her Senate office when she used the flights to attend campaign fundraisers.
Many people found not guilty by reason of insanity are being held in Louisiana jails, where they cannot get the treatment they need, according to a lawsuit filed Thursday.
In a just-released audio recording, City Prosecutor Gary Haynes claims Mike Harson had direct dealings with the alleged mastermind behind the bribery scheme in the DA’s office.