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Lingle and unions whiff on meeting


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POSTED: Saturday, July 04, 2009

As Gov. Linda Lingle and public worker unions attempt to negotiate a pact to bail the state out of its budget crisis, the two sides can't even agree whether they were supposed to meet yesterday.

Union leaders said yesterday they had a 10 a.m. meeting planned, but Lingle wanted it to be a formal meeting with an exchange of written proposals. The unions wanted an “;informal meeting.”;

But a spokesman for Lingle said there was no meeting scheduled yesterday.

It is expected that the two sides will meet Monday.

After Lingle's plan to furlough state workers was ruled unconstitutional Thursday in state court, union leaders sought out federal mediator Ken Kawamoto to schedule a bargaining session with Lingle.

J.N. Musto, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly executive director, said, “;The governor at one point said 'yes,' it was to be a 10 a.m. meeting, and then she canceled it.”;

A spokeswoman for the Hawaii Government Employees Association said the unions went to the federal mediator looking for a meeting with Lingle.

“;She was not willing to meet unless it was in a 'formal' setting. The unions felt it would be most productive if it were an 'informal' session,”; said Jodi Endo Chai, HGEA communicators officer.

“;There was no scheduled 10 a.m. meeting,”; said Russell Pang, chief of media relations for Lingle.

At issue is the fate of at least 2,500 state workers. Lingle previously said that if the courts blocked her attempts to furlough state workers to balance the state budget, she would start laying off workers.

Yesterday afternoon, Lingle met with Barry Fukunaga, chief of staff, Linda Smith, senior policy adviser, Lenny Klompus, senior communications adviser, and Georgina Kawamura, state budget director, to go over ways to trim the budget, according to Pang.

In a brief statement issued late Thursday evening, Lingle said she would continue to talk to the unions while she searched for more money to cut from the state's $5 billion-a-year general fund budget.

“;We will be working on two tracks throughout the weekend to close the budget shortfall. We will continue to negotiate labor contracts to achieve the savings we need to secure a balanced budget, as required by our Constitution,”; Lingle said.

“;We also will be continuing to identify additional savings from all state departments,”; Lingle added.

While Lingle and her Cabinet are searching for more money to cut from the state budget, Attorney General Mark Bennett is considering whether to appeal the Thursday ruling blocking furloughs.

Judge Karl Sakamoto issued a permanent injunction Thursday that blocks Lingle's furlough attempts without first negotiating with the unions.