As a last-minute holiday gift to state workers, Gov. Ron DeSantis announced state offices would be closed on Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve.
“In 2019, we secured historic achievements on behalf of the people of Florida, and our dedicated state employees played a critical role in these accomplishments,” DeSantis said. “I am proud to recognize our state employees for their hard work and efforts this way. The First Lady and I extend our thanks and best wishes to state employees and their families this holiday season, and we look forward to an equally productive year in 2020.”
But the state workers’ union sees it as a shallow gesture.
Kelly Benjamin, the spokesman for the Florida branch of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees (AFSCME) union, said workers appreciate and deserve the extra days off for their hard work. But the gesture doesn’t soothe the wounds over state workers’ fight for a raise.
“State workers are struggling; they live below the poverty line. We have many workers that have to work two or three jobs. We have workers that qualify for public assistance,” Benjamin said. “It’s absurd that we have to basically come to the table and beg when the state is offering huge kickbacks for corporations to come to Florida, but the people that actually provide the infrastructure for the state are getting the shaft.”
The state and its workers reached an official impasse last month, with employees asking for a 5% raise across the board and a 2% cost of living allowance. AFSCME will rally at the State Capitol Wednesday to urge DeSantis and the Legislature to put pay raises in next year’s budget.
But with Christmas Eve a week away and the announcement coming amid their budget fight, Benjamin said, “the gesture is sort of shallow.”
“If the state really appreciated workers, number one, they wouldn’t do this last minute, number two, it would’ve been thought out so workers can actually plan to spend time with their families, maybe go somewhere, maybe do things. They didn’t have that,” Benjamin said.
Florida employees are allotted nine paid holidays off throughout the year. Those include New Year’s, the birthday of Martin Luther King Jr., Memorial Day, Independence Day, Labor Day, Veterans Day, Thanksgiving and the Friday after, as well as Christmas. This year, workers received Friday, July 3, as a holiday to compensate for Independence Day falling on a weekend.
Giving state workers extra days off became somewhat of a tradition during former Gov. Rick Scott’s first years in office. But Benjamin said the act was simply throwing a bone to state workers when they were passed up for a raise.
Last year, Scott gifted workers off for both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve in part for the response to and recovery from Hurricane Michael — and perhaps as a parting gift before assuming his new office in the U.S. Senate. The Category 5 hurricane struck the Panhandle in October last year.
Between 2011 and 2015, Scott gave workers an extra weekday off around Christmas. And in 2008, former Gov. Charlie Crist gave workers both Christmas Eve and New Year’s Eve off with pay.
However, in 2016, the Scott administration forewent the extra holiday but approved raises for state workers the following year. There was no 10th paid holiday again in 2017.
In past years with extra December time off, state workers who perform essential functions still had to work while state offices closed. State agencies determine which of its operations are crucial services.
But DeSantis on Tuesday encouraged essential employees unable to use the extra holidays to speak with their supervisors to earn future days off.
Pay raises for state workers across the board aren’t in DeSantis’ budget for next year. Still, his Bolder, Better, Brighter Future budget‘s proposed $89.7 million for the Department of Corrections includes money for correctional officer retention bonuses. And during a Tuesday press conference, Senate President Bill Galvano said employee raises remain on the table.
The proposed budget will raise the starting salary for teachers to $47,500.
UPDATE: After Florida Politics published this story, the Governor’s Office announced the extra holiday, and AFSCME responded. We updated the story to reflect the announcement.