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."
A federal jury found attorney Daniel Stanford guilty Friday afternoon on eight of 13 counts for his role in the Curious Goods conspiracy.
Lafayette City-Court Judge Francie Bouillion has served on the bench for two decades since winning a special election to replace Judge Kaliste Saloom when he retired in 1994.
The magazine's senior football writer also predicts a break-out year for Saints fourth-year running back Mark Ingram.
Gulf Coast ceremonies marking the ninth anniversary of Hurricane Katrina have begun.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries says there is little known about the effects of tiger prawns on indigenous Louisiana shrimp. But, officials say the reports they're seeking will help state biologists monitor the distribution of the prawns and determine the possible presence of spawning populations.
Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh rested his regulars and watched with delight as Ray Rice's backups ground out 214 yards rushing in a 22-13 victory over the New Orleans Saints on Thursday night.
Friday's Blogs from the Bog!
Google vs. Amazon in drone race; more deaths in Syria; Russia escalates Ukraine conflict and more national and international news for Friday, August 29, 2014.
High-profile criminal defense attorney Daniel Stanford awaits his fate in the Curious Goods conspiracy trial.
The Louisiana Department of Wildlife and Fisheries is set to put the kibosh on the legal ownership of monkeys trained to help the disabled, and the agency wants to know what you think.
A federal judge on Thursday asked lawyers battling over Louisiana's new, restrictive abortion law for an agreement that apparently could let clinics stay open — at least for a while — after the law takes effect Sept. 1.
An abortion rights organization wants a federal judge to block enforcement of Louisiana's new abortion law while its lawsuit to overturn the law makes its way through court.
Republican presidential prospects Ted Cruz and Bobby Jindal are planning to speak at an Iowa Christian conservative event in September.
The attention surrounding Victor White III has spiked with the release of last week’s autopsy report, which has raised a number of serious questions about the night of his death and has put the Iberia Parish Sheriff’s Office under an increased wave of scrutiny as more national media outlets are jumping on the story, most recently seen on MSNBC's The Rachel Maddow Show.
A group supporting taxpayer-funded private school tuition vouchers is appealing a federal judge's order that Louisiana must provide regular reports to federal officials on the state's voucher program.
The Discovery Channel has canceled reality TV star Will Hayden's popular "Sons of Guns" show after his arrest on an aggravated rape charge.
The LPSB will finally hear from the attorney it hired to investigate the superintendent at a special meeting Thursday at 4 p.m.
Authorities are investigating a report that a student there warned the principal of impending violence similar to that depicted in the movie "The Purge."
Saints cornerback Champ Bailey has played for more than a handful of playoff teams during a career that has seen him selected to 12 Pro Bowls.
Police say a 56-year-old Lafayette man walking behind a dump truck died when the truck hit him as it was backing up.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees is a proud papa of new baby girl.
The books on Louisiana's last budget year have been closed, but it took a bit of borrowing from this year to make the numbers work.
The Iberia Parish Coroner responded Monday to the attention surrounding the questionable shooting of Victor White III, a black man from New Iberia who died April 2 while in the custody of local law enforcement.
Two months after lawmakers agreed to create a $40 million higher education incentive fund, no decisions have been made about how to divide the money.
With Drew Brees back healthy, the New Orleans Saints are free to work on the little things that can make the difference between a Super Bowl run and something less.