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Gov. Lingle, unions have date in court


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POSTED: Thursday, July 02, 2009

Gov. Linda Lingle's power to furlough state workers will be tested today before Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto.

Three public worker unions are seeking to stop the governor's planned furloughs, but Lingle insists the furloughs of three days a month for the next two years are needed to reduce the state budget by $688 million and keep it balanced.

Unions representing teachers and blue- and white-collar workers argue that Lingle does not have the authority. Permitting her to furlough workers violates their contract agreements with the state, the unions contend.

In a court filing yesterday, Attorney General Mark Bennett argued that state law allows Lingle to “;relieve an employee from duties because of lack of work or other legitimate reason.”;

“;She is relieving employees from duty for legitimate reasons,”; Bennett said in a court document. “;This is the essence of a furlough.”;

The public's interest, Bennett claims, is in “;avoiding layoffs and maximizing the ability of the executive branch to fulfill its many missions which serve the public's interest.”;

The unions—the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the United Public Workers—argue the furloughs translate into a wage reduction of nearly 14 percent, and that the governor has not attempted collective bargaining for those wage reductions, but has unilaterally imposed them instead.

The unions are asking the judge to immediately block Lingle from imposing the furloughs.

Lingle has already issued an executive order declaring furloughs will start this month, with July 10 as the first scheduled day without pay.

Meanwhile, Senate President Colleen Hanabusa has joined the debate with a plan to address both furloughs and saving money.

“;There must be an alternative to simply furloughing all employees,”; Hanabusa (D, Nanakuli-Makua) wrote in a letter to Republican Lingle.

Hanabusa suggested the state could save money by delaying the seating of new state judges—which would delay the expense of outfitting a new court and its staff.

Hanabusa also warned that her calculations show that low-paid state workers who are furloughed may be eligible for unemployment benefits, which will wind up costing the state more than their total salaries.

Hanabusa also said Lingle has not figured out what to do about furloughs when the Legislature is in session.

Hanabusa said if Lingle shuts the Capitol as planned three days a month next year the 2010 Legislature will not be able to meet and the session will have to be extended a total of 12 days.