Governor signs order authorizing furloughs


POSTED: Thursday, June 25, 2009

Taking the first official step of her weeks-long promise, Gov. Linda Lingle signed yesterday an executive order to force tens of thousands of state employees to take three unpaid days off each month, starting in July.

The governor's furlough plan, which is in the early stages of being challenged in court by three of four state employee unions, could impact 15,600 state workers who are under her direct control.

The executive order does not affect the 32,000 employees at the semi-independent Department of Education, University of Hawaii and Hawaii Health Systems Corp.

But Lingle has promised to cut appropriations to those agencies starting July 1 in hopes they will furlough their workers as well.

“;This is not something we want to do, but something we have to do to balance the state budget and address the unprecedented fiscal emergency we are in,”; Lingle said in a statement.

The state faces a $729 million budget shortfall during the next two fiscal years as the recession continues to ravage tax and fee revenues. The three-day-a-month furloughs, which amounts to a wage cut of about 14 percent, will save the state about $688 million over the same period, the governor has estimated.

There were no immediate comments from the employee unions—the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, United Public Workers and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.

But they have previously contended that furloughs would unfairly impact their members, particularly because workers will have to shoulder large increases in health benefit costs starting next month.

Three of the unions—HGEA, HSTA and UPW—have filed lawsuits and motions for an injunction in court to block the furloughs, contending the governor does not have the authority to unilaterally force workers to take unpaid days off.

A hearing on the motions is set for July 2. The first furlough day is July 6, according to schedules Lingle's office issued last week.

The Board of Education has canceled its July 1 special meeting to discuss cuts because the hearing is the next day.

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents professors, has filed an administrative grievance with the university.