Tuesday, 10 February 2009

Seattle puts staff on unpaid leave


The Port of Seattle has directed about 850 non-union employees to take two weeks of unpaid leave as part of a plan to offset a projected budget shortfall of $9 million this year.

Similar cost-saving measures could be extended to the port’s unionized workers, as well as a 50-percent cut in staff travel budgets.
About half of the 1,700 workers at the port are in various unions.

Charla Skaggs, a port spokesperson, said the furloughs will save $2.9 million and that all executives, including Executive Director Tay Yoshitani, will take the unpaid time off.

“There’s no question — we’re feeling the economic downturn,” said Yoshitani.

In an e-mail message sent this week to port staff, Yoshitani said the actions will “help us achieve the savings required to avoid layoffs.”

The port is coming off one its weakest years in 2008 as container volume fell 13.6 percent to 1.7 million TEUs, including big drops in both import and export international box traffic.

In the e-mail Yoshitani said the solution “must be able to be implemented quickly so we can achieve savings early; it must provide as much flexibility for employees as possible; and it must be fair across the board.”

In addition to the two-week furlough for non-represented employees, he said he has met “with our organized labor colleagues to ask that they come up with a plan for represented employees that will achieve the same level of savings.”

He said the furlough can be taken one day at a time, or in multiple days; the first week must be taken by July 31, and the second week by Dec. 19.

“Of course there will be more changes ahead, and we will keep you notified as decisions are made,” Yoshitani stated in the message.

A recent study on the port’s regional economic impact revealed a slight decrease in the numbers of direct jobs attached to port facilities: in 2007, those facilities created more than 111,000 direct jobs, down from 115,000 in 2003. Indirect jobs — those created by the purchases of goods and services by firms doing business with the port — shrank by about 6,000 to just over 20,000.

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