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Measure of victory will be how little is lost


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POSTED: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

There seems to be no good options for any side in this perilous time for public worker unions and the state of Hawaii.

At least, according to the public pronouncements from Gov. Linda Lingle, unions have little to gain from negotiating because she has said there is no way to change the looming 72 days of furloughs planned for the next two years.

Asked last week if there was a way to modify the state's bargaining stance, Lingle said no.

Absent finding $733 million in the bottom of Honolulu Harbor, the state will move ahead with furloughs and the unions will go to court to forestall the furloughs.

In a grim sign of movement last week, state managers at Lingle's direction started writing down the names of state workers to be laid off if the courts halt the furloughs.

If that worst-case option takes place, the damage could be union solidarity, besides just workers' lives and families. If the rank and file feel they are being sacrificed for some unionwide bargaining strategy, the unions themselves will be damaged.

What if the unions are able to take the time between furloughs and layoffs and use it to forge agreement among legislative Democrats to raid more special funds or raise taxes to solve the budget shortfall?

The mechanics of that would mean the Democrats would have to call themselves into session, draft a tax increase plan, send it to an inevitable veto by Lingle and then have the supermajority needed to override the Lingle rejection.

It is doable, but it comes perilously close to next year's elections, not a time of tax-raising courage.

For union chiefs now negotiating with Lingle and the county mayors, the situation is not as much complicated as it is meaningless.

After coming out of the talks Monday afternoon, “;the problem is there is no way to tell if you have won.”;

If the state and counties cannot negotiate to keep the status quo and raises are out of the question, then the depth of the wage-and-benefit cuts is the only measurement left.

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Richard Borreca writes on politics every Wednesday. Reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address)