Letter: How about furlough Fridays?


Dear Editor:
Alaskans are divided between a Permanent Fund increase and budget cuts. Many Alaskans demand a $3,000 PFD. Conversely, many Alaskans maintain government spending is wasteful. Both positions have merit. So the Governor keeps two campaign promises: to restore the PFD and to make major cuts.

And the protests and legislative infighting begin. Something must give. Alaska cannot survive on the proverbial State credit card, running up the tab without consequences. Perhaps, crises will increase again in the Middle East and oil prices will skyrocket. If so, problem solved — temporarily.
Until then, government spending must be cut. The primary cost in government is personnel. But, we don’t have to lay off employees. Another solution exists.

I practice law in the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands. Like Alaska, the CNMI suffers fiom our same rags to riches mentality. When things are going well, things go very well. But, when the bottom falls out, things go very badly. Fortunately, Saipan created an effective solution, called “Austerity Fridays.”

On Austerity Friday, the government shuts down, except for essential positions. Employees have an unpaid day off. Austerity Friday has succeeded well in managing CNMI operating capital. The CNMI is not alone, however.

Two years ago, the Alaska Court System began closing at noon every Friday to preserve its budget. As an attorney, I believe that little has been missed. The public has adjusted quite well. Moreover, studies have also shown that employees with a four day work week are more productive. And, years earlier, Alaska government went to a 37.5 hour work week to cut spending.
Alaska should immediately implement a “Furlough Friday.”

If so, Alaska should be able to maintain everybody in their current employment without cutting salaries. Employees would lose certain days a month of payment for non-essential employees, but this would allow Alaska to address our budgetary crisis, and also prove that government is not as essential as we think.

Perhaps, we still really can have our cake and eat it too.

Bill Satterberg, Fairbanks


  1. First, the State 37.5 hour week goes back to Territorial days and its purpose was actually to reward employees with a shorter workweek. From the time of the Organic Act of 1912, the Territorial workweek was 5 and a half days, as I recall five eight hour days and half a day on Saturday. I don’t remember when it was reduced. That was really only the workweek for some employees, others had 40 hours, 42 hours, an 81 hour workweek for COs at one time, later 84, vessel employees have a totally different scheduling scheme.

    At times there has been pressure to put employees on the standard 5 8s that much of the non-State workforce works. At times non-represented employees have worked 8s, but the reality is most non-reps are salaried and most would love to work just 8 hour days. For the unionized employees, hours are a mandatory subject of bargaining and all of them have contractually guaranteed workweeks for fulltime employees. Some of the units have limited provisions for furloughs but nothing like the 20% decrease in paid time you are proposing. They’re all under contract now except maybe the vessel employees so you’d be facing a year or more of tussling with them just to get them to talk to you about furlough changes, then they could keep you talking for another year and by then everybody is only thinking about the next governor’s election, and they aren’t going to be interested in dealing with this Governor; they’ll try to buy themselves a new one.

    When the unions saw the election results they ran to the outgoing Walker Administration for some sweetheart three year contracts some of which went exactly the other way and paid them for more hours. They moved the supervisors up to a paid 40 hour week. Since almost all supervisors are salaried, OT exempt employees that just a 6.67% general increase. I don’t think they put more money in to pay for it but they took no action to disapprove it, so that wage increase is going to be paid for with layoffs or vacancy factors.

  2. Mr. Satterberg has thrown out his idea of a solution to our problems in order to “.. prove that government is not as essential as we think.” What a joke on everyone.
    With this sort of logic, I suspect this attorney will have his hands full in handling Al Vezey’s lawsuit against our Legislature.

    • I see someone left the troll out from underneath its bridge. Maybe next time it’s handlers should make sure it comes with ideas to solve the problems instead of just sniping and calling those who disagree with it “knuckledraggers”.

      • Well Lee, I see at least one knuckledragger showed up here. Did you have something to contribute??

      • It usually happens every time you poke the bear. It rears its ugly head and growls loudly, but doesn’t do much after that. Been reading a lot from this character, but haven’t yet seen a viable solution that could be implemented. What a shame!

        • Say there Jeff, did you have a viable solution to contribute or do you just like to see yourself in print here??

  3. Thank you for suggesting a very viable solution to some of our budget problems, Bill Satterberg! This will certainly help! Don’t just take half a day, take the whole day off!

  4. Bill, I appreciate you putting an idea out their to help alleviate some of the impact of the state budget cuts. Our state needs to live within our annual revenues. This will mean cuts and not everyone will be happy. Too bad we don’t have others who are looking for solutions rather than condemning the cuts as “catastrophic”!

  5. I taught school in SE Alaska and we were on a four day school week. The school year was a little longer but we all had Friday’s to explore and do fun things on longer weekends…

  6. Well, Bill Walker had State employees (GGU) give up 15 hours each (more for supervisory) every fiscal year. Then, we just cashed in leave hours to get our money back (for those of us eligible to do that).
    During part of the Sheffield administration, we got furloughed every Friday at noon. At that stage of my life, it just meant the party started a little earlier on the weekend. Didn’t have a care in the world back then.
    Bills idea isn’t so bad. You can find out in a hurry how many state employees and offices you can really do without.

  7. And, might I add, where were Wonder Woman and Faux Priest/Fake UAA Grad or whatever he is trying to represent, and Grandma Lady when I was giving up 2 days of pay on furlough under the BILL WALKER/BYRON MALLOTT ADMINISTRATION? They weren’t chaining themselves to any doors in defense of that so-called atrocity!

  8. I’d go along with that, if and only if we had “pay for your services Mondays” wherein everyone getting their roads plowed, fires fought and police protection provided actually contributed 20% of their upkeep to the State. Living within our means? That’s code in Alaska for living on whatever the oil companies give us in allowance.

  9. For context, it might be interesting to find out whether government mismanagement and corruption is as virulently endemic among the Marianas as it is in Alaska.

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