Permanent fund flu strikes at dividend time

Posted: Sunday, October 14, 2001

ANCHORAGE (AP) -- Dorinda Hansen, manager of a Chevron station, was pulling double shifts last week. Happens every year when those darned Alaska Permanent Fund dividends go out.

''Horrible,'' she said. ''I have employees that live paycheck to paycheck and when the dividend comes, I get bogus call-ins and it's really hard to get people to work.''

Alaska's slacker economy has kicked in again. Who needs to work when the state gives you $1,850 in free cash? For some of the 406,682 Alaskans who got such payments deposited directly into their bank accounts on Wednesday, the answer was, ''Not me!''

''If you see me behind the fry station, you'll know we're a little short-staffed,'' said Larry Baker, owner of Burger King of Alaska.

Baker and his managers, who operate 22 restaurants with about 600 employees statewide, have heard every excuse. They've just come to expect lots of ''sick'' calls on dividend day. Usually, about 5 to 7 percent of his workers don't report for work.

''It just seems like the blue flu occurs more often around PFD time,'' he said.

Greg Otto, manager of a Royal Fork Buffet restaurant, usually sees an outbreak each year around this time.

Last year, he said, one employee who had worked his way up from buser to cook just didn't show up on dividend day. No phone call, nothing. Just quit. Otto said many of his 40 employees will receive their dividend by mail over the next two weeks instead of by direct deposit into bank accounts. He won't be surprised if a few call in sick with the ''24-hour flu, that sort of thing.''

''I have my suspicions,'' he said. ''But it's not like wholesale here.''

Hansen said one of her Chevron cashiers on Wednesday, the day dividends were deposited, told her he needed to stay home with a case of bronchitis and rest up for a big shopping trip.

''I just took him off the schedule for a week,'' said Hansen, who's paying other employees overtime to cover. ''When they have this extra money, it's really easy: Why do I have to wake up and come to work?' To some people this is like winning a million bucks.''

Neal Fried, a state labor economist, said he has no numbers on absenteeism at dividend time. That's one stat employers don't report, he said.

The dividend, which comes from investment profits on the state's oil wealth savings account, is a powerful force in the state's economy. This year's $1,850 dividend, the second largest ever, is bigger than most biweekly paychecks, which average $1,446 statewide and $1,517 in Anchorage, Fried said. In all, the state will pay out $1.09 billion in dividends this year.

''It's very significant,'' Fried said. ''It's not surprising that it can affect behavior.''

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