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Court rejects Lingle's furloughs


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POSTED: Friday, July 03, 2009

A judge threw out Gov. Linda Lingle's plan to furlough state workers yesterday morning, saying she cannot violate the state Constitution even to benefit the people.

Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto's injunction is a devastating blow to Lingle's decision to balance the state budget—cutting $688 million over two years—by furloughing state workers three days a month.

In a statement last night, the governor said officials will try to reduce the budget shortfall by negotiating union contracts to get savings and by continuing to find additional cuts in state departments.

“;I continue to believe that we must approach this unprecedented fiscal challenge with a sense of shared sacrifice in the short term, while remaining focused on our long-term economic future,”; she said.

Lingle has said previously that if she were blocked in court, she would start laying off state workers. She did not mention layoffs in last night's statement.

Lingle and Attorney General Mark Bennett were reviewing yesterday whether to appeal the case and were not available for comment.

The judge's oral ruling yesterday blasted the state for ordering furloughs without first attempting to negotiate the issue with the public worker unions.

The United Public Workers, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Hawaii Government Employees Association said they do not object to some furlough days to help balance the budget, but claimed that Lingle would not bargain with them and instead ordered the furloughs by herself.

Sakamoto reasoned that because the state Constitution gives public employees the right to collectively bargain, the issues such as wages and terms of employment must be bargained by the state, the employer.

“;An employer cannot implement unilateral changes on matters that are subject to mandatory bargaining,”; Sakamoto said. “;It is clear from the magnitude of the constitutional violation in this case the court believes that there is irreparable damage. The court cannot allow a constitutional violation to remain.”;

To the state's union leaders, Sakamoto's ruling is both an important protection for workers and also a new call for Lingle to bargain.

“;This ruling does not solve the problem we all face, and we are ready and willing to bargain with the governor in an attempt to resolve at least our share of the revenue shortfall,”; Randy Perreira, HGEA executive director, said after the ruling. “;We have said that employees are willing to make sacrifices. However, that is achieved through the bargaining process.”;

;[Preview]    State Judge Blocks Lingle's Furlough Plan
  ;[Preview]
 

The state attorney general says he's “;seriously considering”; an appeal of the injunction.

Watch ]

 

Senate President Colleen Hanabusa sent a letter to Lingle that suggests instead of the furloughs, the unions would be willing to accept a simple 5 percent pay cut.

House Republican leader Rep. Lynn Finnegan added that Lingle's plan would have addressed the state shortfall and saved state workers jobs. “;Without the furlough option or an appeal by the state, the only other decision is to move forward with layoffs,”; Finnegan said.