Furlough talks hit a wall


POSTED: Saturday, June 27, 2009

Talks between Hawaii's four public worker unions and the state are stalled.

After Tuesday's four-hour bargaining session arranged by federal mediator Ken Kawamoto, the two sides have been on call, with no meetings scheduled.

Union officials say Gov. Linda Lingle will not accept conditions put to her at the June 23 meeting and the unions will not meet without some assurances that the state will accept their demands.

According to J.N. Musto, executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the four unions told Marie Laderta, state human resources director, that talks could not proceed until the governor agreed to use extra state money and consider raising taxes before cutting state worker pay through furloughs.

“;The negotiations are nowhere. They are not proceeding anywhere. The governor is adamantly opposed to looking at any revenue enhancements,”; Musto said.

Specifically, the unions want Lingle to use the $180 million in the Hurricane Relief Fund and the $45 million in the state rainy day fund and then explore raising the general excise tax before cutting public worker salaries, Musto said

“;We are insisting that unless you come into the process agreeing that the entire package is going to be considered ... you don't move forward,”; Musto said.

But Laderta said “;that has been rejected”; by the state administration.

A union source close to the negotiations confirmed that Laderta was told to tell Lingle that “;there is an expectation that all revenue sources would be used before putting people out of work.”;

Laderta did not return calls asking for comment.

Roger Takabayashi, the Hawaii State Teachers Association executive director, wouldn't comment on the status of the talks, but did say “;it would be a good gesture”; for Lingle to say she would use the special funds before furloughing workers for 72 days over two years.

Lingle has ordered state workers to be furloughed starting Wednesday. This means workers' pay checks will be cut by 13.8 percent to save $688 million over the next two years.

The unions argue that both special-funds money and a state general excise tax increase should be enacted first, and then if there is still a budget shortfall, they would agree to furloughs.

The recently concluded state Legislature balanced the budget by raising the hotel room tax, cutting programs and taking nearly $100 million out of special funds, including $20 million from the Hawaii Tobacco Settlement Fund, $20 million from the Housing Revolving Fund and $16 million from the Wireless Enhanced 911 Fund.