Thursday, September 8, 2011

Not this again - Furloughs and OUS vs OPEU

I wrote this a while back regarding furloughs the during last go around with the University. Now we are here again, and sure enough, our Union is arguing AGAINST furloughs. WHY? It is financially better for us to take them - in fact, the majority of folks can simply cash out vacation, and only lose ONE day's pay if they are desperate, or wait and make money on what is essentially a 'loan to the state at ~5%'. I cannot believe that our Union doesn't understand this; more amazing, I cannot believe that OUS is foolish enough to ask this of us again. Can no one do math???

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I think there has been a mistake. A financial one, a bit obscure, but real dollars. In full disclosure, I am a classified state employee and a finance student (now graduate) at Oregon State University.

Quick background, in early fall 2009 the State reached an agreement with the OPEU regarding a contract for OUS employees similar to DAS. In the contract, the Union agreed to a specific number of furlough days in the next two years, and a one year wage freeze. This concession was in order to save the state much needed dollars over that time and prevent layoffs.

This could have in fact saved the University System money… but here is where the mistake came in. Thus far, academic employees and managers, not represented by the Union, haven’t agreed to match these wage reductions or furloughs. Immaterial to the argument except in one specific way: it allowed a mistake in how the furloughs were administered. This is key.

Currently, employees, based on pay levels, are required to take a fixed number of furlough days (days off unpaid) each fiscal year for the next two years. However, they are being allowed to take them WHENEVER THEY WANT. As such, employees are allowed to essentially substitute furlough time for time when they would have taken vacation. Full time employees earn a day of vacation each month, so the lowest and highest paid union employee will earn and typically use more vacation days a year than required furlough days (4 required for the lowest paid full time and 7 for the highest). As such, at the end of the two-year period, at minimum the employee will have an extra 8 vacation days on the books.

This is critical and where the mistake lies: vacation days are a paid benefit. They represent either paid effort not received, or cash back to an employee upon leaving. They do not depreciate as wages increase – 8 hours earned while making $10/hr is still 8 hours years later when making $20/hr. Thus, in essence, vacation time becomes MORE valuable to the employee AND a higher cost to the state.

So, why is this important – by allowing employees to use furlough days instead of vacation days, employees can bank those vacation hours. This is in effect allowing employees to BUY vacation days at current wage cost, i.e. if one makes $15/hr, and loses 4 days wages, they give up that wage for 4 days. However, in a year, they will have four extra days vacation saved, which will then reflect their newer salary.

How does that add up? Lets say a daily wage is $200 ($25/hr). I am required to sacrifice 5 days this next year, or $1000 in savings to the state. However, I use it in place of vacation days, so I now have 5 extra days of vacation (earned at $25/hr). Once the wage freeze is lifted, I will again receive my negotiated step increase of 4.75% a year. So, now my salary, and hence those vacation days are worth 4.75% more than previously. We can ignore inflation, as it affects each group equally as well as OPE (overhead), the state will have to have MADE 4.75% on the investment of my salary savings to break even (given how the state has been doing recently, not likely). Over two years, one employee at this rate will have 10 days set aside, and the state needing to average again 4.75% per year to make the savings worthwhile. Some quick math shows that at the end of two years, that $1000 of vacation time each year is worth $2047.50, and the third year, $2144.75 – as long as they do not reach the top end of their wage scale, these dollars will continue to grow.

Since the state is in the hole, this represents savings on borrowing – which means the state will have ONLY made money if they would have had to borrow money at OVER 4.75%. Considering I can get a 15 yr home loan for about that, I would expect the state sees a better loan rate. Thus, the State of Oregon would have been better off borrowing money to pay for salaries and forgoing furloughs.

This is the mistake – the state has essentially borrowed the money from the employee at 4.75%. It will end up being paid back – in lost effort, or in payments to the employee upon leaving.

The Chancellor’s office can fix this – right now, make the decision to close the University or institute mandatory furlough days… and NOT, though convenient, on days which people would normally take vacation (i.e. not around xmas). By minimizing the effect on operations, OUS has prevented any real savings – and it will cost the State… only swift action can prevent the employee's intention of sacrifice from becoming another boondoggle of government mixup.

Wednesday, February 3, 2010

As folks are preparing to Graduate...

The message I would give to students, as an older student who has come back to school after working: SLOW DOWN!

Seriously, most all of my peers have their degrees. Of those with just a BS, few have exceeded the salary from my job out of HS - and most have struggled to find work. Experience, with just a BS or BA, at that level is just as critical - don't forgo an internship or new grad program to get your foot in the door.

In almost every case, those who have done well are those who chose to go on to a Masters, Doctorate or professional degree. I cannot tell you how many have gone back to get their RN.

So, yes, it may take you a few extra years to graduate, and your debt might be higher - but if you can find the opportunities in that time to propel yourself out of the school into a job, do so. Business majors - take an extra year and get the MBA - a plain business degree can open a door, the MBA will get the door opened for you as explained by my CFO friend. There are plenty of MBAs competing with you right now for that entry level job. Scientists and engineers, I have the same advice. Most of my friend went this route, were top of their class, but couldn't wait to get to the 'real world'. With a rare exception, the real world so to speak is just a daily 9 hour march, for unneeded years. Most all found happiness after going back and getting more education.

But you're sick of school? Really? Look around you - single? You will never find a larger more dynamic group of potential dates. Like to go out - trust me, a class at 0800 is nothing compared to weekly staff meetings at 0800, and quota reports. Money? You will never, seriously, NEVER have more beer money than right now - you'll have more cash to be sure, but it'll go to your mortgage or insane rent, your car, your kids, etc. The concerns you have now are in most cases trivial to those you will have in five years.

There is a reason they make shows where the 40 somethings look back to their college years fondly - these are the best years of your life for this type of activity. Later, the happiness you will find when you get married, have kids, etc will eclipse this selfish time, but also there will be divorce, losses, struggles, etc which will make finals and that bad date on friday seem trivial as well.

So don't rush - take this time to be selfish, take this time to get a real education, not just the quick piece of paper to get out into the workforce. Study your passion, your desire, go out with exciting people, let your heart explore and discover yourself. Work to take advantage of crazy travel opportunities through clubs and groups. Gain the experience here of more than just your BS or BA. Consider a graduate program where 'they pay you' as your potential post graduate salary gets increased, and your student loans aren't due yet. And finally, slow down - the rest of your life will come soon enough!!

Friday, November 6, 2009

Are the Classified Furloughs for Oregon Higher Education employees COSTING instead of SAVING the state money?

I think there has been a mistake. A financial one, a bit obscure, but real dollars. In full disclosure, I am a classified state employee and a finance student at Oregon State University.

Quick background, in early fall 2009 the State reached an agreement with the OPEU regarding a contract for OUS employees similar to DAS. In the contract, the Union agreed to a specific number of furlough days in the next two years, and a one year wage freeze. This concession was in order to save the state much needed dollars over that time and prevent layoffs.

This could have in fact saved the University System money… but here is where the mistake came in. Thus far, academic employees and managers, not represented by the Union, haven’t agreed to match these wage reductions or furloughs. Immaterial to the argument except in one specific way: it allowed a mistake in how the furloughs were administered. This is key.

Currently, employees, based on pay levels, are required to take a fixed number of furlough days (days off unpaid) each fiscal year for the next two years. However, they are being allowed to take them WHENEVER THEY WANT. As such, employees are allowed to essentially substitute furlough time for time when they would have taken vacation. Full time employees earn a day of vacation each month, so the lowest and highest paid union employee will earn and typically use more vacation days a year than required furlough days (4 required for the lowest paid full time and 7 for the highest). As such, at the end of the two-year period, at minimum the employee will have an extra 8 vacation days on the books.

This is critical and where the mistake lies: vacation days are a paid benefit. They represent either paid effort not received, or cash back to an employee upon leaving. They do not depreciate as wages increase – 8 hours earned while making $10/hr is still 8 hours years later when making $20/hr. Thus, in essence, vacation time becomes MORE valuable to the employee AND a higher cost to the state.

So, why is this important – by allowing employees to use furlough days instead of vacation days, employees can bank those vacation hours. This is in effect allowing employees to BUY vacation days at current wage cost, i.e. if one makes $15/hr, and loses 4 days wages, they give up that wage for 4 days. However, in a year, they will have four extra days vacation saved, which will then reflect their newer salary.

How does that add up? Lets say a daily wage is $200 ($25/hr). I am required to sacrifice 5 days this next year, or $1000 in savings to the state. However, I use it in place of vacation days, so I now have 5 extra days of vacation (earned at $25/hr). Once the wage freeze is lifted, I will again receive my negotiated step increase of 4.75% a year. So, now my salary, and hence those vacation days are worth 4.75% more than previously. We can ignore inflation, as it affects each group equally as well as OPE (overhead), the state will have to have MADE 4.75% on the investment of my salary savings to break even (given how the state has been doing recently, not likely). Over two years, one employee at this rate will have 10 days set aside, and the state needing to average again 4.75% per year to make the savings worthwhile. Some quick math shows that at the end of two years, that $1000 of vacation time each year is worth $2047.50, and the third year, $2144.75 – as long as they do not reach the top end of their wage scale, these dollars will continue to grow.

Since the state is in the hole, this represents savings on borrowing – which means the state will have ONLY made money if they would have had to borrow money at OVER 4.75%. Considering I can get a 15 yr home loan for about that, I would expect the state sees a better loan rate. Thus, the State of Oregon would have been better off borrowing money to pay for salaries and forgoing furloughs.

This is the mistake – the state has essentially borrowed the money from the employee at 4.75%. It will end up being paid back – in lost effort, or in payments to the employee upon leaving.

The Chancellor’s office can fix this – right now, make the decision to close the University or institute mandatory furlough days… and NOT, though convenient, on days which people would normally take vacation (i.e. not around xmas). By minimizing the effect on operations, OUS has prevented any real savings – and it will cost the State… only swift action can prevent the employee's intention of sacrifice from becoming another boondoggle of government mixup.

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

My clunker cash...

So... I drive a 2001 Ford Sport Trac. According to the EPA website, http://fueleconomy.gov/ , I get 15 mpg, and therefore qualify for a large rebate if I trade it for a newer more efficient car.

However, this is what disappoints me - this program is NOT about getting cars off the road. Its about stimulating sales. If it was about getting gas guzzlers off the road, it would allow me to buy a 90's era junker, and trade it in for a reasonable amount ($2k or so). Instead, I need to have owned and insured the car - meaning, they want my still fairly drivable truck. Those junkers which seem to pass from hand to hand, will end up being lost after some schmoe who doesn't buy new cars gets his third DUII, or wrecked and abandoned after years more of nasty pollution. This program will buy about 250,000 junkers total. So, probably less than a quarter of the junkers just in LA alone, for example. And it will receive no financial payback for the junked vehicles.

I bought a hybrid last year, I have done my part - and yet, in looking for a new sedan, I am forced to trade in my reasonable vehicle - which I upkeep regularly, while a gas guzzling jeep sits a block a way for sale for $500. No incentive for me... and frankly, from what I have seen those folks trading in, all we are doing is taking away the next generation's 'teen inheritance' cars off the road, while the nasty junkers remain.

So, I'll keep my truck. Its worth the few extra dollars I'd have to pay - and now instead I can buy a new Charger. It gets 19 mpg. This program blew it both ways.

My suggestion: take $1 Billion, and buy junkers and scrap them. I'd bet dollars to donuts that with that kind of initial capital investment, you could 'make' money recycling old parts, and metal from them.

Sunday, May 31, 2009

A Death, a Doctor, and a Divide

There are few issues in this nation which divide us like abortion. For some, it is the slaughter of innocent lives, for others, an argument of choice and freedom.

In today's CNN.com, the lead story was of a late term abortion doctor being gunned down in front of his church. The irony here abounds.

Abortion is distasteful. I think no right minded person would disagree with this. It is okay to think it is wrong, to say it is wrong, and to choose not to get one yourself - or, for us men, to encourage our respective partners to not get one. Freedom allows this line of thought and personal choice.

However, this is not a perfect world - and frankly, these are not our bodies. Western philosophy preaches the values of the individual, but frequently our heroes on TV or the movies are the ones who act not in preservation of the individual but of society. There is likely someone living on the street in hunger within 20 miles of where you sit reading this right now. Life isn't perfect. There is suffering. There is pain. There is a worse world than we understand in our day to day lives... We choose not to see everything.

I think abortion is wrong. I would prefer is doesn't exist, but the hallmark of freedom is to understand that in having freedom we must allow those things, that we dislike, to happen. To listen to speech that you would spend the rest of your life shouting against, to watch a symbol of everything you love burnt as a statement of protest, to tolerate the intolerable idea.

So, abortion exists. Rational minded folks understand this freedom, this choice (in my personal view, a choice for only the mother to make) and that the understandable argument must be 'only' on what ethical limits we must place. Be it length of term, conditional age, parental notification, these are legitimate debates of serious ethical and moral issues. Debates which are not easily dismissed just because the right of choice exists.

We can work to create an environment which minimizes the desire to choose to terminate; but it is incumbent on us to not do so through intimidation, threat or backhanded coercion. Freedom entitles us to both protest and debate - but not prevent. 

Today a man was shot... a man who took an oath to do no harm, a man who served his community in his own way, a man who made a ethical choice as to where harm lay in his field. He will be morned. I, while not grieving as I have no real connection to him, feel that his death should be avenged - I do believe in the death penalty, and frankly, his murderer deserves to die. 

But before we condemn the guilty, let me say this and only this - the shooter was pro-life. One of the few pro-life people I have ever heard of. I have a four year old daughter, and if I knew of a physician who was killing four year olds down at a clinic, heaven and earth would not prevent me from casting my heart and arms against such a place. This person followed their belief, followed as so many do not. While I can justifiable end his life, I do not see him as evil. 

Society tells us that ideas are noble pursuits to be debated in civilized fashion. Bloodshed is labeled barbaric, violence abhorrent, torture unconscionable. But... (hopefully)maybe one day, not now however. We are not far from the savage beasts beating our chests and beating each other to death with stone and stick over a fresh kill. We have clothed ourselves, taught ourselves, and housed ourselves in the protective glow of intellectuality, but we are still those beasts. Those essences of nature's slippery progress in evolution. 

All too often we give lip service to our ideals. We frequently act only as it does not inconvenience ourselves. Because of the artificial constrains of society, we limit our response to that which is acceptable. To us the shooter was a cold blooded killer. However, if we abstractly place ourselves within the killer's mind, we see reflected the hundreds of late term abortions which now won't take place (at least not as easily). By every rational measure, more lives will come out of this death than were lost. Can you not truly imagine another scenarios in which one's sacrificing for the potential for many would not be a hero to some... to most?

It is a conflict. It is a war to some. Lines have been drawn, much as they are drawn for a hundred other issues... issues which effect lives, happiness, and freedom. You can stand on either side. I am a moderate Republican, a party who has made their feelings known, and yet I stand on the side of Pro-choice, on the side that will condemn this shooter to die for his cold blooded murder. But do not get me wrong - I am not sure I am in the right. I am not sure, if a deity exists, they are on my side in this. Probably not - do I sacrifice my eternal life for this cause? Yet this is my side. My choice. That misguided shooter may have a net gain of lives, but that is not what he took away. He took choice... the potential for a different than expected outcome. That 'freedom of choice' is all we have in the end to bring us away from our early ancestral selves.

I choose this side because I believe in freedom more than I believe in life... 

... as freedom has always had this ironic price. 

Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Album lists and memories...

This is one of those 25 things lists floating around, but this one I felt I had a lot to reminisce about, thus I am spending a lunch hour avoiding getting yummy but unhealthy Panang Curry...

Albums through the years (these are pivotal pieces, I listened to a heck of a lot more, but these are the ones which invoke memories - they are by no means necessarily my favorite, though most are):  

Thriller (Michael Jackson) - first album I can remember wanting. There was, of course, earlier music; but this is the first album I bought which I can remember.  

The Wall (Pink Floyd) - High school, listening to it freshman year and awakening to a new world of classical rock. I remember I bought it cause this girl Clair I had a crush on mentioned it. Used to fall asleep listening to my walkman. 'Comfortably Numb' remains my favorite song of all time.

Hysteria (Def Leppard) - Middle of HS, this album seemed to be involved in all sorts of hijinks and other trouble I got into as my brother got his first car around then. I remember listening to 'Love Bites' with my first real girlfriend Tonya. Vividly.  

Led Zeppelin IV - Again HS, I had this tie-dye shirt, and knew virtually nothing about them other than I liked this album. Poser. I kept singing parts of the stupid thing randomly in class. Only later did I discover the depth of the other Zeppelin offerings.  

Appetite for Destruction - (Guns and Roses) my first very individualized choice in music. I owned this about a year before 'Sweet Child' came out big... For quite a while my favorite band. Thought I could sing like Axl Rose... I could not, and I think Kacey damned near killed me she got so sick of me trying.  

Use Your Illusion I & II (Guns and Roses) - The summer before leaving for college I was in hormonal lust with a girl named Sarah, and this album came out. Then in college I remember listening to it again and again. And again. Not as good now as I remember it then, but what is...

The Black Album (Metallica) - I remember listing to them in HS, but when I hear this album I think of hanging out with my roommate Darren after freshman year playing Zelda on the SNES and not doing anything else productive. That was a great summer... and yes, UO does have tunnels. :-)

Multiple Sarcasm - Not only did I really love their only CD release, but the aforementioned roommate was the drummer (which probably was good then that I liked his music). No album more reminds me of Eugene, and the good times I had during those years than this music. I still have their demo tape floating around somewhere after I made Mp3s of it.

Crucify (Tori Amos) - 'Little Earthquakes' the album could just as easily be here, but Tori is a piano goddess. Listening to 'Thank You' coming off of those haunting Ivories will always be a vivid memory. I have seen her many times, but only the show in Eugene will remain burned in my memory as her best. She reinforced my firm belief in the awesomeness of redheads.

120 Days of Genitorture (Genitorturers) - I must admit, I bought this mainly for the picture of Gen on the front, but fell in love with 'Velvet Dreams', one of my top five songs of all time. I would later see them many many times in Orlando while in the Navy, and would occasionally run into this amazing blonde around town. Wish I would have said 'Hi' cause Gwen Stefani has nothing on Gen...

Undertow (Tool) - the video for 'Sober' still remains the coolest video I have ever seen. I was living in a quad at the time and I remember watching Beavis and Butthead, and waiting for Mtv's 'Headbanger's ball' to see this video again. This is probably the band I have seen most live after Sarcasm and the Genitorturers.

Promised Land (Queensryche) - I remember getting this with Darren on some late night trip, and we listened to it while driving... not sure where or why, just listening to the sound of it while the dark road passed behind. Later I saw them, and it remains one of the best concerts I ever have seen.

Chum (Seven Mary Three) - the original music before they hit it big, when I was in Orlando, 'Cumbersome' was the crunchy goodness of FM radio. It got castrated in a more publicly available later recording, and I still regret losing my copy of it, as it was 7M3 in their prime.

No Need to Argue (The Cranberries) - I have distinct memories of my friend Vince yelling at me as I sang 'Zombie' loudly as we studied electronics at Orlando's Naval Nuclear Power Training Command. I don't sing very well... but I love to anyways, much to others horror. I would crank this song as I tooled around Florida in my little jeep with the top down.

The Musicals - Sweeney Todd, Les Miserables, Phantom, Sunday in the Park - during al of this time, it would be a rare day when I didn't have a tune from one of these running through my head. From watching Sweeney late at night with Matt and Tonya, to seeing Les Mis the first time in wonder, to driving like a madman around San Fran looking for the damned theatre for Phantom five minutes before it started, to my huge mancrush on Mandy Patinkin's voice.

While i am sure I am missing some albums, I got bored with bands and albums after a while. Seriously, for some reason, my musical tastes stopped evolving; and while I really enjoy some new bands or artists, nothing ever held the same sway, the same staying power for me after the Navy years. It had been such a huge part of my life until then, and I went to a couple concerts to be sure afterwards, but even now have stopped attending those as the crowds piss me off more than the music satisfies me. SONGs would produce a much more vivid list spanning these and following years, but I have run out of time... and songs revel a much more intimate part of us all I think, one I am no keen to share.

I will say however, that the song to which I danced with Camie for the first time at our wedding was the theme to the 'Godfather'. No more beautiful love waltz exists.






Thursday, January 22, 2009

Leaving DC...


So, I am packing up after a great trip to the nation's capitol to see the inauguration. Words can't describe how cool this was... oh, wait, yes they can: Cold. Seriously, momentous and all, but cold as hell. 


That is not to detract from the moment, the people, and the absolute crowds of enthusiasm given voice. From the opening concert, to shuffling around on Tuesday to see the speeches, it was a amazing experience. One I will only say, you must come have. Seriously, this happens every four years... now in this case, it was a unique moment, but a portion of that amazement still happens every four years and it is worth taking a moment out of one's life to spend in DC for that brief period of time.

For me, I am always blown away by this city. Everyone is driven, everyone is dedicated, everyone is the tops of the top. This is where those nerds who work their ass off come to finally be among those of their peers. In the bars you don't hear debates about sports, but about recent constitutional questions. It never feels crowded... even after the Mall, people seem to slip away on the metro leaving the area I am staying near the Mall sparse and comfortable. Within walking is the White House and all those touristy destinations, the GW campus, and the Metro taking one to the entirety of the rest of DC. In just two blocks there are amazing restaurants, great drinks, and every convenience one could need.

I will miss this city. I am not worthy of her yet. I hope to be one day... after law school, after MBA school, after some hard work and some dedicated efforts, I hope to be back. To bring my family to this wonder, and to let them see how amazing it is to live here, if even for a moment.