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."
Lafayette Police have had a busy day.
Gov. Bobby Jindal's administration will use $130 million in patchwork financing from a tax amnesty program, insurance settlement, uninsured motorist penalties and other excess funds to close most of the state's midyear budget deficit.
Democratic U.S. Sen. Mary Landrieu said she disagrees with President Barack Obama's actions on immigration, hoping the latest controversy doesn't worsen her campaign difficulties.
Gay-rights advocates challenging Louisiana's same-sex marriage ban announced Thursday that they have asked the U.S. Supreme Court to review their case before it is heard by a federal appeals court.
Thinking himself the “son of God,” the man charged with the 2013 killing of an officer of the Chitimacha Tribal Police will not stand trial following a ruling Thursday on his mental competency.
Either Saints coach Sean Payton doesn't want to tip Baltimore off as to who'll start in New Orleans' secondary on Monday night, or he really doesn't know yet.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Ten departing CEOs rake in $430 million; profile of FSU gunman emerges; Buffalo's weather woes and more national and international news for Friday, November 21, 2014.
The Ethics Board gives the lame duck Youngsville mayor permission to offer a sweet parting gift to the community he’s presided over for three terms.
The money came through a general obligation bond sale Thursday.
A legend in the Acadiana Oil Patch, Comeaux died Monday, Nov. 17.
With a growing number of alleged sexual assault victims coming out against Bill Cosby in recent weeks, upcoming projects have been canned by NBC and Netflix, but that won’t affect the once-loved comedian and actor’s scheduled performance in Lafayette.
The Baltimore Ravens' retooled secondary had no trouble against a rookie quarterback at home. This week, however, their task is far more challenging: stopping Drew Brees on the road in New Orleans.
Add Texas Gov. Rick Perry's name to the list of possible Republican presidential candidates flooding the campaign trail for GOP Senate candidate Bill Cassidy.
Gov. Bobby Jindal is in Florida this week with his fellow Republican governors for another gripe session aimed at their favorite target, the president, this time taking aim at his immigration plans.
Early voting for the runoff is shortened by two days because of the Thanksgiving holiday.
“Coach Don” Gagnard is running for school board. Today he offers his critique of the socioeconomic relationship between government subsidies and obesity.
Former Le Rosier chef who cooked at the James Beard House and was named one of the “Best New Chefs in America” by Food & Wine magazine in 1995 was 48.
Pat Cooper is contesting his termination by the LPSB, filing a petition Tuesday that calls the recent decision “arbitrary and capricious.”
A look at the numbers highlights the challenge facing Louisiana Sen. Mary Landrieu as she tries to win a fourth term in a Dec. 6 runoff against Republican Rep. Bill Cassidy.
Incoming Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell is promising the new Republican majority will quickly resurrect Keystone XL pipeline legislation killed by Democrats, potentially setting up an early 2015 veto confrontation with President Barack Obama.
A national animal rights group has been rebuffed by a Baton Rouge district court judge, although the group might still get its day in court.
The administration says public college campuses won't be on the chopping block.
The legendary musician is performing at a $1,000-per-person fundraiser Dec. 1 in New Orleans.
Old savings and checking accounts, payroll checks, stocks and dividends, insurance proceeds, oil and gas royalty payments and other unclaimed money is sent to the state when a business cannot locate someone.