TGIFF: Some Idled State Workers Find ‘Furlough Fridays’ Can Be Fun

Posted: April 9, 2010 in Uncategorized

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Forced to take time off, some hit the slopes; a discount on Sushi.

TRUCKEE, Calif. — Hallie Morris’s husband is one of over 200,000 California state employees who have been furloughed without pay every Friday for over a year. She’s loving it.

“We can actually do more things as a family, and we don’t have to deal with the crowds,” Mrs. Morris said as she stood on a deck at the Boreal Mountain Resort watching her husband, Lance, and their 16-year-old son, Keegan, snowboarding on a gloriously clear Friday. “I absolutely love it.”

Lance Morris, a computer analyst, his wife, Hallie, and their son, Keegan, enjoy more family time since California furloughed Mr. Morris on Fridays.


This is “Furlough Friday” and it’s becoming a staple around the country as state governments force workers to take a weekly day off—usually Friday—to help bridge budget gaps.

The loss of a day’s work, and as much as 15% of a worker’s pay, is forcing families to tighten their belts. California Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has put state workers on Friday furloughs since February 2009 and most furloughs are expected to persist as long as July. A state district judge March 24 ordered the state to reinstate about a quarter of the workers, but an appellate court Tuesday upheld the furloughs after Mr. Schwarzenegger’s office appealed.

Friday furloughs are producing an unexpected dividend for many of these workers: Marketers have discovered them.

The Boreal ski area near Lake Tahoe offers a “Frickin’ Friday” $15 ticket for furloughed California employees; the normal adult lift price is $47. Don Hutchens, a state highway contractor, said it cost only $30 for him and his wife to snowboard all day while their young son and a friend did so for free.

“It’s the best deal in town,” said a smiling Mr. Hutchens, as he toted his board to the parking lot. “You can’t beat it.”


In Lincoln, Calif., the Thunder Valley Casino offers furloughed state workers $30 in coupons on Fridays, which can be used for dessert, side dishes and $5 match play at the tables. “Been Furloughed? Then make them fun!” says a flier for the casino near the state capital of Sacramento.

“The intent is really to provide a fun respite from the travails of what state employees feel every Furlough Friday,” says Doug Elmets, spokesman for the casino.

In Adel, Ga., Ben Rehberg says he got the idea to offer 10% discounts to furloughed state workers there for his computer-repair service after he was furloughed last year from his main job as a state technical consultant. “I thought I had a unique idea,” says Mr. Rehberg, 31, who adds no one yet has taken him up on it.

The deals aren’t just for workers. In Honolulu, Waiola Shave Ice until February sold its signature dessert for 25 cents—down from $2.25—to children out of school on Fridays since 13,000 teacher furloughs began last October. “We wanted to ease the financial burden on the parents,” says Jerry Lee, owner of the chain of two shave ice stands.

A December survey of the National Association of State Budget Officers found 15 states reported doing furloughs. Although some businesses say the furloughs hurt districts that depend on state workers, there are pockets of Furlough Friday prosperity.

Friday traffic has picked up in malls like the Pearlridge Center in suburban Honolulu. The uptick, which mall managers measure by fuller parking lots, began after the shopping center hosted “Family Furlough Friday” on Oct. 23. Activities included a “wayfinding/ celestial navigation” workshop, tumbling with Rainbow Gymnastics and “Lego Town with Mr. Amazing.”

“We just wanted to give workers stuck home with kids something to do besides nothing,” says Scott Creel, regional marketing director for the shopping center.

In Hilo, Hawaii, B97 radio host Darrin Carlson was inspired by the furloughs to pen this ditty: “Here is where we sit bored out of our wits, state workers staying home everywhere. Well we got no place to go, so the state can save some dough, watching TV in our underwear. It’s Furlough Friday…”

Others are getting into action. Szandra Keszthelyi, a California associate personnel analyst, started a Web site called “Fantastic Furlough” listing all the discounts available to furloughed state employees around Sacramento. They include 30% off eyebrow waxing, braids and other services at Itz Ur Tyme Hair Design and 10% off lunches at Miyagi Bar & Sushi (not including alcohol.)

“I thought this could help bring business back to the area while providing a discount for those of us whose pay was cut,” says Ms. Keszthelyi, 30.

Around the capital city, Furlough Friday discounts abound. One of the more popular is at Laughs Unlimited, a $15-a-head comedy club in the Old Town district where furloughed state employers and their families get in free.

With furloughed workers comprising as much as half the audience on Fridays, says marketing director Skip Cappawana, one running gag is: “The good news is you’re here for a Furlough Friday. The bad news is you didn’t get paid today. Give yourselves a hand.”

At watering holes frequented by state employees, Thursday night has become the new Friday night. Rubicon Brewery in Sacramento offered a 10% discount to furloughed workers last year to help keep up business. But even with the discount no longer in effect, an upswing in business on Thursdays has offset the slower Fridays, officials there say.

“When times are bad, it doesn’t seem like that much more to have a pint with your friends,” says manager Rachael Soules.


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