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Ethics of furloughs

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You can read here about the new plan what will mandate a 1 week (5 working day) furlough for all USU employees in March.  Basically, every USU employee will be required to take 5 days off without pay in March.  Instead of taking 25% out of each March paycheck, they will take that amount out of paychecks over 5 months, which eases the blow.  

For those in PHIL 1120 Social Ethics, this raises some interesting social and economic justice questions.  Is this utilitarian or deontological reasoning?  Is it better to spread out the pain with a furlough if it means saving jobs?  What is the purpose of a business anyway (though in this case it is a public university)?  Is the protection and welfare of workers a primary end of business, or are workers merely instruments in profit maximization?  

For my part, I think the furlough is a good idea, it is expressive of a certain solidarity that shares the pain of these times without, one hopes, having that pain be felt in a truly crisis situation for any particular family.  Of course, I would like to know exactly how many jobs the USU plan will save – I can imagine someone who takes the furlough pay cut only to lose their job in July would be pretty unhappy.

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4 Comments

  1. Mike says:

    Interesting way to deal with budget problems. I wonder if the UofU will follow suit. Making those 5 days more like extra vacation days that could be used whenever might be more useful (to employees) but I don’t know all the details. Maybe it’s not the best solution but it certainly sounds like they’re thinking outside the box.

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  2. Kleiner says:

    Well, the 5 days are over Spring Break, a time when the university can basically shut down. It might be too messy to have them be mandated unpaid ‘vacation days’ that get spread out over weeks and months where the university needs full staffing.
    Furloughs have not been uncommon in the last few months. I have several friends working in the private business sector who have been forced to take unpaid ‘vacation’ time. I believe California has considered furloughs for its entire government payroll.

    The downside: the Beav is going to be even more packed over Spring Break!

    Another related question (this is really co-opted from income tax debates). For a furlough, I suppose the administration could have:
    a) Take a fixed amount from each employee ($200 a month for 5 months). Obviously this would hit lower income employees harder.
    b) Take a % from everyone. This is essentially what they did, everyone gets basically a 2% pay cut. This means that higher salaried employees pay more, in terms of dollars, than lower salary employees. But it still hits lower salaried employees harder, because that % cut ‘cuts deeper’, so to speak, in terms of making making ends meet (on the presumption that those making $100K or more are not living ‘paycheck to paycheck’).
    c) Have a graded % system. Employees making over $100K have a 4% deduction. Employees making $75-100K have a 3% deduction. Employees making $50-75K have a 2% deduction. Employees making under $50K have a 1% deduction.
    On (c), the higher salaried employees pay even more so that lower salaried employees (someone living off $25K a year – not uncommon for administrative assistants – is not hit as hard).

    What is the most just system?

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  3. Clay says:

    I think its a good idea. It saves jobs, and allows USU to still provide the quality of service it’s students have come to expect.

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  4. Huenemann says:

    I like your option (c) the best. It takes from those who can most afford the loss, and cushions the blow for those who can least afford the loss. Moreover, it’s not as if USU has a lot of “fat” to trim — it’s already a skeletal operation, for the most part.

    It bears noticing, though, that by asking the biggest cut from the highest grade, we are in effect encouraging those folks to get jobs elsewhere (assuming that anyone else is doing any hiring!). That is aimed in the opposite direction of USU’s efforts to retain quality faculty. Then again, if you can’t afford a Lexus, you don’t get to keep it.

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