Aug. 5 2009 12:00 AM

T-shirts advertising a state worker furlough “tour” are selling like hotcakes, but the designer says it’s not a symbol of protest


“Friday Aug. 7, Friday Aug. 21, Friday Sept. 4.”

It sounds like the schedule of a touring rock band, but for state employees in Michigan, those dates mean much more.

Featured on the back of a T-shirt along with the words, “We’ve got your back,” the “Furlough Tour 2009” T-shirt being sold by Retroduck in East Lansing has caught the attention of state workers and local media. And, Retroduck has sold thousands of the shirts in the past few months.

A state employee, who, at this point, wishes to remain anonymous, designed the shirt. But, he wants to make clear that the furlough fashion statements are not in opposition to a cost-saving measure being used by the state.

“It’s not in any way a protest against (Gov. Jennifer) Granholm or against the state,” he says. “It was done in support of furlough days. We wanted to make a slogan that showed our point to help out during these difficult times. People have their own perception of what’s going on, but from my point of view furlough days is a way of doing our part.”

The front of the shirt features the words “Furlough Tour 2009” written in bold with waves of space etched throughout the letters. On the back are the “tour” dates, the “We’ve got you’re back” slogan and “Executive Order 2009-22.”

The shirt were created after Granholm announced June 19 as the first of six unpaid days off for state workers, which Granholm’s office estimated would save the state $22 million.

The designer approached Retroduck coowner Luke Hackney (an occasional writer for City Pulse) shortly after the announcement.

Hackney said the designer’s order of about 200 of the shirts for his own personal use was the first of several different orders of the shirt, placed by different people and with slight variations in design.

Since the designer’s initial order, Hackney estimates that about 3,000 of the shirts have been sold. Retroduck is selling the shirts for $18 a pop.

“It’s definitely not normal to sell that many of that type of personal custom T-shirt design,” Hackney said. “We did T-shirts for a 5K benefit for Ellie’s Race and sold about 3,000 there.”

The average custom design job, he said, usually sells 20 to 30 shirts.

On, a description for the shirt written by Hackney reads: “Sure, you aren’t getting paid for your time off and you probably shouldn’t be spending the dough, but hey, things will get better, right? Right?”

Hackney, who has worked at Retroduck for seven years, said he doesn’t feel the shirt is poking fun at the state workers’ situation.

“I’m not sure if it’s making light so much as it is a protest for state workers,” Hackney said.

The designer said it might be a protest to some, but not to him.

“I just want to be clear on my perspective, instead of protesting and being rude about it, we wanted to print them as a way to say we are adjusting as a state,” he said. “We are taking our furlough days in stride. In this economy, everyone has to do their part, it just so happens that furlough days are our part.”

But concerned state workers like state Department of Human Services employee Dennis Burdick are worried about the wording.

“Basically the way its worded makes too much light of a serious situation in which our citizens are unfortunately going through,” Burdick said.

Burdick, who is running for Fourth Ward seat on Lansing City Council, said he saw a similar T-shirt with the phrase, “We’ve got your back” (likely from the governor’s June speech) circulating on people’s backs around the office — which he also attributes to a form of protest. The “Furlough Tour” T-shirt, though, is a different situation entirely, he said.

“That makes it sound like a band concert, that’s a different spin entirely,” he said.

As the T-shirt and email continue to circulate, Hackney said the personal design is so popular that the store has three separate group orders set for this week.

It’s all in the world of making T-shirts, Hackney said, not politics.

“(If someone where to approach us with a design we didn’t like) We wouldn’t say ‘no’. We’re not in the business of censorship,” he said.