The D.C. government began sending furlough notices this week to about 21,000 workers, requiring them to take four days of unpaid leave in late August and September, as part of an effort to close a projected $95 million budget deficit.
Mayor Marion Barry indicated last week that he intended to go ahead with the controversial furlough plan. He formally approved the furlough in an executive order he signed Monday, signaling that he would veto a bill passed recently by the D.C. Council that would have halted the furloughs.
City officials said that the furloughs would affect all workers under the mayor's authority, except uniformed police, fire and corrections officers, doctors and nurses and a few other categories of critically needed workers. Independent agencies, including the school board, will not be affected.
Agencies were told to try to schedule the furloughs for either Mondays or Fridays, but that they could stagger them through the week to minimize the impact on the government's daily operations.
In a letter mailed to employees, City Administrator Carol B. Thompson justified the furloughs on the grounds that the city might not have enough money in its bank account to cover its remaining expenses for the fiscal year that ends Sept. 30.
"As hard as it was for the mayor to accept the necessity of a furlough, we all felt it a small price to pay when faced with the possibility of not being able to issue paychecks," Thompson wrote.
"I ask you," she added, "will it be harder for you to manage by missing one day of pay in four paychecks or wondering when you will receive an entire paycheck?"
Last week, the council approved a bill requiring the city to give workers 90-day notice of furloughs, instead of the current 30 days.
The emergency legislation would effectively undermine the furlough plan this year.
Barry does not intend to sign the legislation before his 10-day review period expires next Friday, officials said. The move is tantamount to a veto because the council is in recess until September.
A spokeswoman for Council Chairman David A. Clarke (D) said that he plans to call the council into special session this summer to pass new legislation blocking the furloughs.
"It is not something he wants to see happen," said Jackie Dennis, the spokeswoman. "His concern is that the people of the city do not become unemployed or have to take leave without pay."
Joslyn N. Williams, chief of the local AFL-CIO, said the labor community's "inclination is to request the council to call an emergency session to pass this legislation all over again. We would like the council to come back and deal with the issue."
However, some city and labor sources indicate that there may be little the council can do to block the mayor's plans.
Even if new anti-furlough legislation is approved, that could also be vetoed by Barry, or the process could become so drawn out that such legislation would not affect the city's current plan.