Laying off state workers will not be quick or easy


POSTED: Friday, July 10, 2009

Fifteen years ago, former Gov. Ben Cayetano found out that laying off state employees — as recently threatened by Gov. Linda Lingle — is convoluted and results in an almost impossible-to-calculate budget savings.

In 1994, Cayetano was faced with a budget crisis and looked to layoffs to solve part of the problem. He estimated that 1,300 jobs would need to go. But in the end he was only able to cut 150 worker salaries.

Cayetano called the actual results “;minimal.”;

“;After a month of consultation with the public labor unions, we realized that the RIF (reduction in force) would result in the termination of many fewer,”; Cayetano wrote in his autobiography.

“;I watched in amazement as the number of permanent civil service employees we could actually eliminate dwindled from 1,300 to approximately 150,”; Cayetano wrote.

Earlier this year Lingle said she also did not want to resort to layoffs, but her plans to save money by furloughing workers was ruled unconstitutional because she did not negotiate the furloughs with the unions.

Lingle said on Wednesday she is ready to start the process of layoffs by consultation with the unions. That is expected to take a month.

Lingle said the unions are first to react to her proposal, then she will respond and that “;at some point after that the individual notices go out.”;

The state does not plan for any layoffs in the Departments of Hawaiian Home Lands, Transportation or Commerce and Consumer Affairs because savings from workers' pay cannot legally be transferred back into the state's general fund.

Also, Lingle said no workers at the University of Hawaii or Department of Education would be involved in the layoffs because she has no jurisdiction over them.

During the 1994-1996 budget crisis the state prepared a detailed manual on how layoffs would proceed. It is not known whether a new manual has been drafted, and the Department of Human Resources and the Governor's Office did not answer questions about whether a new set of procedures has been drafted.

The old manual runs 60 pages and outlines 17 steps the state must follow in laying off workers.

Before the state can dismiss a full-time civil service worker, it must first fire employees serving as emergency temporary hires, provisional employees, limited-term employees and those on their initial probation, according to the state's reduction-in-force guidelines.

Before the period of consultation can begin, there are other procedures outlined in the four union contracts. The state's blue-collar union, the United Public Workers, says in its contract that it must inform workers 90 days before the impending layoffs will take place.

The UPW contract spells out 55 steps that must be followed before a worker can be let go, including detailed provisions for time of service and where a laid-off employee would prefer to work if another position were available.

The state allows “;bumping rights”; for workers, which means that one worker can be bumped from his or her position by another worker with more seniority.

Seniority is calculated by retention points, which are earned on a monthly basis, but the calculation is so precise because of part-time workers that the actual formula, according to the guidelines, goes on for six separate steps.

“;For rounding purposes, calculate to the third decimal place and round to the next higher or lower number,”; the guidelines read. “;If there is a tie, the employee shall be selected on the basis of job-related factors and or affirmative action considerations.”;

The big catch to saving money by laying off people was noted by Cayetano, who said workers take their salaries with them when they bump a less senior worker.

“;An employee who accepts a demotion to avoid layoff shall retain the employee's basic rate of pay,”; according to one of the Hawaii Government Employees Association labor contracts.