Lingle tells workers to expect layoffs; their unions come back with lawsuits


POSTED: Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Gov. Linda Lingle told state workers yesterday to expect massive layoffs as early as July 1 if they don't accept furloughs. But the public worker unions went to Circuit Court to fight the threatened furloughs.

“;If the unions are successful in blocking the furloughs, we will have to go to mass layoffs and shut down programs,”; Lingle said yesterday in an informal news conference.

Lingle is expected to meet today with the union leaders, county mayors and the federal negotiator to head off layoffs.

The unions—the Hawaii Government Employees Association, United Public Workers and Hawaii State Teachers Association—filed separate lawsuits against Lingle yesterday.

They contend furloughs had not been negotiated and that the governor cannot unilaterally implement them.

Lingle said department heads have been directed to prepare plans to lay off workers if she is unable to carry out the furloughs for the 14,500 employees under her control.

Lingle has said she will have to fire up to 10,000 workers if the unions do not accept the plan to balance the state budget by having employees take three days off a month without pay for two years.

Union contracts expire at the end of the month, and Lingle said once that happens, she will be free to implement new working conditions, including furloughs or dismissals.

“;All layoff provisions, from our perspective, go away with the contract. We will be able to lay off people immediately. We will give them notice and that will be it,”; Lingle said.

The action is needed to help trim $688 million from the state's new two-year budget. Tax projections show the state is not collecting enough money to continue with its existing $4.4 billion-a-year budget.

“;We cannot start the fiscal year (July 1) without having in place a plan to realize the savings we have contemplated, because by law I am required to oversee a balanced budget,”; Lingle explained. “;If I can't implement furloughs, we won't have a balanced budget.”;

But the unions argued that Lingle has not negotiated with them and yesterday they filed suit to stop the furloughs.

“;Her imposed furloughs are unfair and unconstitutional,”; Randy Perreira, Hawaii Government Employees Association executive director, said yesterday.

Each contract is slightly different. For instance, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly's contract says that if no settlement is reached when the contract expires, the contract continues to be in force while both sides continue talking.

Lingle said she is planning today to meet with a federal mediator, county mayors and union leaders.

“;We have asked the federal mediator to help us. We will be having a meeting tomorrow afternoon between the counties, the unions and ourselves,”; Lingle said.

Hawaii's four county mayors agreed yesterday to enter the union negotiations, but with a proposal separate from the state's offer. Lingle said she welcomed the move because the counties have issues and revenue sources different from the state's.

She added that while the state and counties are bargaining together, the salaries for state and county workers represented by the same unions would be different.

In past negotiations, the union workers had received the same pay raises.