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Furloughs take toll on state workers

October 3, 2009 12:55:20 AM PDT
A closed DMV symbolizes the state worker furloughs, but there are faces and real-life impacts behind these closed doors that the public doesn't see. DMV worker Angela Ramirez detailed her financial struggles caused by the three, unpaid furlough days a month.

"There's not much I can do," says Ramirez.

She has a list of bills and how much is left until she gets paid at the end of this month, when an unwelcomed visitor dropped by, another bill collector.

"I hate these," she says with a sigh, "It's letting me know that I'm in foreclosure and to contact them as soon as possible."

That's just reality of living with what amounts to be a 14 percent cut in pay.

"It's just disturbing. It's hard and these are the conditions I'm dealing with everyday," describes Ramirez.

Franchise Tax Board worker Renee Lee is also in foreclosure. Her home of 18 years will be auctioned off in a matter of days, and she and her 5-year-old granddaughter will have nowhere to go.

"I might be one of those people on the street saying, 'I was a state worker. I'll work for food' just to get by. I shouldn't have to do that. I've been a loyal employee for 30 years," says Lee.

But California's tax receipts are way down in this recession, and the furloughs, as was other cost cutting measures, were a way to save the state $1.3 billion.

The Schwarzenegger administration says the alternative was layoffs.

"I would also note over the past 12 months, about 740,000 Californians have had a 100 percent furlough. They've lost their jobs completely. So the governor chose to go the furlough route to achieve savings," says H.D. Palmer of the California Finance Department.

The furloughs are in effect until June.

Both Ramirez and Lee don't think they can hang on until then.

"I'm living a nightmare. I want to wake up," says Ramirez.

It's a humbling situation," says Lee.

Members of Service Employees International Union, the largest public employee unit in California, say some workers are living in their cars and showering at work.

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