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Workers try to make most of furlough

An unidentified American worker

TEXT OF STORY

Steve Chiotakis: State and corporate cost cutting has made unpaid days off a new workplace reality. It's called a furlough. And where there's a trend, there's a business opportunity. Here's Marketplace's Sam Eaton.


Sam Eaton: Twenty-seven-year-old Yuri Victor lives in Virginia. He's a product designer for the newspaper publisher Gannet. And so far, he's been forced to take two weeks of unpaid leave. He says he's made the best of it -- first with a long weekend in Denver. And then for the second round.

Yuri Victor: I went swimming in the pool, had some beers with some friends. Just tried to relax for a little bit.

A recent survey of five hundred companies found that nearly half of them had either imposed unpaid leave or were considering it. And some businesses have tried to make it a marketing opportunity.

Jill Stockton with Reno, Nevada's visitors bureau created a furlough special for California state workers.

Jill Stockton: They would get one night for free, $25 in free casino play, 25 percemt percent of spa treatments, discounts on dining and also two-for-one show tickets.

Brew pubs, art museums and even an Ohio-based water park resort are also offering furlough discounts. But their success has been limited.

University of Illinois labor expert Bob Bruno isn't surprised:

Bob Bruno: To speak of furloughs is really to speak of failure.

Bruno says many companies are using furloughs as a way to make fewer employees do more work for less money. And then there's the lingering fear that pink slips are just around the corner.

Bruno: And if that's the way in which it's interpreted,then that day you're not paid but not laid off or not fired becomes a day that you really resent.

Gannett's Yuri Victor realized this when he tried to create events for his fellow furlough-ees.

Victor: And I came up with furlough bar crawl, and that was deemed to be somewhat unproductive. We would go to a bar all day instead of going to work.

And then a few of his colleagues suggested another idea. It's an online house swap so that furloughed workers across the country can trade homes to vacation on the cheap. He says within the first month, more than 500 people signed on.

In Los Angeles, I'm Sam Eaton for Marketplace.

About the author

Sam Eaton is an independent radio and television journalist. His reporting on complex environmental issues from climate change to population growth has taken him all over the United States and the world.
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The term furlough is corporate double-speak. For employees who are salaried to begin with, it is meaningless. A 10% furlough should mean working 36 hours/week. But, when a salaried person actually works 60 hour/week anyway - the furlough is meaningless as far as actual hours spent. It's just a 10% pay cut.
My husband works in a lab far more than 40 hr/week. Nothing has changed, other than his take-home pay. He isn't "allowed" to work as many days, but that doesn't effect the actual hours.

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