State furloughs begin today

SACRAMENTO — You won’t have to worry about lines at the DMV today — because it will be closed, along with a host of other state offices.

Today marks the beginning of the two-day-a-month state worker furloughs ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger — the first in state history.

Confusion reigned Thursday as state officials sorted through who should come to work and who should say home. A state judge in Sacramento last week upheld the governor’s order, but it remained unclear whether the order applied to employees of state constitutional offices. Employee unions said some workers got conflicting information from supervisors.

“It’s an absolute huge mess,” said Jim Zamora, spokesman for Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, the largest state employees union in California.

Agencies notified the public via state Web sites and through phone answering systems. Bottom line: If you’re thinking of visiting a state office today, you’d better call first.

The furloughs, fought by state worker unions, will save the cash-strapped state about $1.3 billion through June 2010. But it also might cause a few headaches for Valley residents looking to take a driver’s test, file a wage complaint or interact with other state offices in the region.

Have no fear, California Highway Patrol officers are exempt and will be on duty. Prisons will operate as normal, too. And state universities and community colleges aren’t covered by the order because they are not directly controlled by the governor.

The DMV says you can do most everything as normal today — on the agency’s Web site. At www.dmv.ca.gov you can renew your license and registration or update your address. You can’t, however, take a written or driving test or apply for a new driver’s license. For that, come back Monday.

Of course, with offices shut down twice a month, the DMV could be a little busier than normal when it is open.

“If you do have to go to a field office, make an appointment,” said DMV spokeswoman Jan Mendoza. You can do that at the Web site, where you can also check on wait times at each office. Or call (800) 921-1117.

The Hugh M. Burns state building on Mariposa Mall in downtown Fresno will be quiet. Closed offices include those that handle disability and paid family leave insurance.

Also shut down is the state workers’ compensation office. But Fridays are usually slow there anyway because claims aren’t adjudicated — only administrative work is done, said Dean Fryer, spokesman for the Department of Industrial Relations.

“I don’t see it being a huge impact. Of course it’s going to create some extra work on the other days,” he said.

The Division of Occupational Safety and Health also is closing its offices, but Valley officials will be on call to investigate any workplace emergencies, Fryer said.

A few Valley legislative aides might still roam the halls at the Burns building. The Legislature is exempt from the furloughs.

But the public will not be allowed in, said Sarah Reyes, chief of staff to Assembly Member Juan Arambula, D-Fresno, who has an office in the building.

In northeast Fresno on East Shaw Avenue, the Division of Labor Standards Enforcement office will be closed too, meaning wage claims and other complaints will have to wait until Monday, Fryer said.

The state’s “one-stop career centers” — employment offices that are scattered across the Valley — got a last-minute exemption today. That means state workers will be on hand to assist residents with job searches and other career services. Workers will still have to take furloughs, but they will be spread out on a flexible schedule. Also, you’ll still be able to file unemployment insurance claims. Call centers will remain open.

Caltrans offices will be closed — but the agency’s orange trucks will still be on the road because construction projects will continue, said Malcolm Dougherty, director of the Caltrans district office based in Fresno.

The Department of Consumer Affairs will close all its boards and bureau offices, including one in Fresno that investigates construction industry complaints.

In Porterville, the state-run developmental center for people with disabilities and behavior problems will be open as normal. Workers there have a more flexible furlough schedule that “will ensure the health and safety of all consumers and staff and meet all licensing requirements,” said Dorsey Griffith, spokeswoman for the California Department of Developmental Services.

The thousands of prison workers in the Valley also will have furlough flexibility. Prison guards and other corrections employees will accrue two furlough days per month to be taken when feasible.

“What we won’t be doing is leaving any post unfilled,” said Seth Unger, spokesman for the Department of Corrections and Rehabilitation. “And we won’t be compromising the safety and security of our institutions in any way.”