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Workers say reducing hours will be painful


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POSTED: Tuesday, June 02, 2009

Probation officer Meagan Heffernan said the governor's plans to furlough state employees will place hardship on her family, especially since her husband, Jacob, also works for the state as a social worker.

“;It's been stressful when you don't know what's going to happen,”; said the 31-year-old Nuuanu resident. “;I already have to pay the higher medical insurance.”;

With four children, that is a strain, she said.

“;It's not about having sympathy for the affected families,”; she said. “;It's about being fair to the government workers. I feel we're being targeted.”;

Gov. Linda Lingle said yesterday many state workers will have their hours cut beginning in July and continuing for two years. The three-day-a-month furloughs will cost workers 13.8 percent of their pay.

Richard DePretto, a 62-year-old auditor, said the governor should look elsewhere to make up for lost tax revenues.

“;They have deputy directors—20 to 30 probably—making $80,000 to $90,000 in salary and benefits,”; he said. “;Their jobs are not actually needed.”;

Jennifer Shishido, a supervisor at the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, said pay is already low compared with other Western states.

“;A lot of them say if they're going to cut pay, they're going to quit,”; she said. “;They've already had offers but they like the state benefits. But if the benefits aren't there, who are we going to get to work for us?”;

Health coverage is a key issue, she said.

“;I just talked to a guy who's barely making it,”; Shishido said. Although he and his wife have health coverage, “;he can't afford to pay for his children.”;

If furloughs are instituted, “;he might not be able afford it for his wife,”; she said.

Erica Fontaine, 41, is concerned that her temporary position at the state Unemployment Office might be eliminated.

“;I don't want to be unemployed again,”; said Fontaine, who was laid off from an insurance agent's office and is now on her second 89-day hire.

Some workers are happy to have jobs at all.

Henry Hoeft, 41, an electrician in the private sector who was laid off in May, said his wife, a legal clerk for the attorney general's office, is “;more in favor of the furloughs than job losses.”;

“;We foresaw this,”; said the father of twin 12-year-olds. “;It wasn't hard to see the handwriting on the wall. It's one thing to expect it. It's another thing to go through it.”;

The Heffernans, meanwhile, plan to send their youngest child, a 3-year-old, to preschool in August at a cost of $680 a month. But their plans to send their eldest, 13, to private school are out.

“;We're going to have to redo our budget,”; Heffernan said.

“;This whole economic loss should be felt by everyone,”; she added, suggesting a raise in the general excise tax would be more equitable.