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."
The Lafayette superintendent insists the budget is illegal and vows to fight on.
"I am not a scientist," Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell has said numerous times, a response that other members of his party have parroted.
Republicans are running strong races against endangered Democratic incumbents in states such as North Carolina, Colorado, Arkansas, Louisiana and Alaska. Republicans are also looking to replace retiring Democrats in Iowa and West Virginia with a GOP lawmaker.
Republican congressman Vance McAllister is trying to make up to Louisiana voters for getting too close to a married former employee.
You may not like all of “it,” but U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu, unlike many of her colleagues, isn't sitting around twiddling her thumbs in Congress.
Saints safety Kenny Vaccaro says he "can't wait" to play against Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers.
The heat keeps rising for Iberia Parish Sheriff Louis Ackal as a new slate of corruption allegations surfaced this week.
If opposing defenses sell out to stop the Packers' passing game, they risk being gashed by powerful running back Eddie Lacy, a New Orleans-area native.
At the horn the officiating crew trotted to the tunnel and left security personnel to clean up after them.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Sign "ninjas" cleaning up clutter; NYC doctor positive for Ebola; Ferguson grand jury decision nears; and more national and international news for Friday, October 24, 2014.
We can safely assume incumbent Chief K.P. Gibson isn’t too worried about this challenger.
Nationally, Republicans must gain six seats to win Senate control. The most competitive races, many in states where Obama lost in 2012, remain too close to call.
The Baton Rouge Republican has repeatedly battled a perception within his own party that he perhaps wasn't the best choice to carry the GOP banner.
Even if Jimmy Graham's production dips while the star tight end recovers from a shoulder injury, it looks like Drew Brees won't have much trouble finding other targets.
A former campaign manager for Senate candidate Rob Maness is striking at the Republican contender's tea party support, saying Maness only sought to appeal to conservative organizations because he needed money for his campaign.
Ninety-two percent of public school teachers were rated either effective or highly effective in a report the state issued marking the second year of a new statewide evaluation process.
School board members Mark Babineaux, Hunter Beasley and Tehmi Chassion can vote to fire Cooper — because we all know that’s exactly what they’ll do.
District 2 school board candidate Simon Mahan is hoping to unseat first-term incumbent and former Carencro Mayor Tommy Angelle in the Nov. 4 election.
District Attorney Mike Harson is showing his desperation by falsely attributing quotes to his opponent and blocking journalists from his social media.
The governor is traveling the country laying the groundwork for a possible 2016 presidential campaign, but his approval ratings at home hover well below 50 percent.
State District Judge Bob Downing extended the order and delayed a planned Wednesday hearing about a permanent injunction while negotiations continue between Attorney General Buddy Caldwell and the waste disposal site operator.
New Louisiana higher education commissioner Joseph Rallo will be paid more than his predecessor.
Elijah McGuire and Alonzo Harris each had four rushing touchdowns, and Louisiana-Lafayette rolled to 419 yards on the ground in a 55-40 victory over Arkansas State on Tuesday night.
Bill and Hillary Clinton are the validators-in-chief for Democrats struggling through a bleak campaign season in states where President Barack Obama is deeply unpopular.