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Unions must do their part to resolve crisis


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POSTED: Thursday, August 06, 2009

As state labor negotiations go forward at a snail's pace, the state's budget crisis is worsening and is likely to result in a battle over layoffs of unionized employees. The sooner things happen, the fewer employees will face job losses, so their labor unions should be punctual in seeking a resolution.

That does not appear to be happening. When Gov. Linda Lingle announced Tuesday that layoff notices are being delivered to 1,100 employees, she still was awaiting the unions' formal response to a settlement proposal handed to them more than two weeks ago. Earlier, a negotiation session was called off because one of the union leaders was said to be on the mainland.

The unions have rejected Lingle's proposal that all 15,600 employees of executive departments take off three days a month without pay for two years. The unions have said they would agree to furloughs of one day a month, which has become the members' mantra.

Labor and the administration were to submit their final written settlement proposals this week to an arbitration panel, which -

as in past years - will issue a binding resolution as late as December. Arbitration hearings are scheduled to begin in early September for

the white-collar Hawaii Government Employees Association and the

blue-collar United Public Workers.

In past years, labor has routinely asked for twice the amount of pay raises it wanted and successfully gained half of what it asked. If that is the strategy this time, the unions and the administration should consider cutting to the chase: two furloughs a month, which would result in limited layoffs - the earlier the fewer.

The law allows the governor to invoke layoffs in order to balance the state's budget, a constitutional requirement. Lingle has ordered 900 nonunion employees to take three-day-a-month furloughs beginning Sept. 1. She expects that will save up to $10 million a year, a small fraction of the amount needed to cover the $786-million shortfall expected through mid-2011. The governor also announced Tuesday that another round of layoffs is being considered.

Lingle said the “;elaborate procedures”; of layoffs make it impossible to estimate the savings at this point. The layoffs will be based on how to keep “;high-priority”; or “;core”; functions operating, but seniority will allow “;bumping.”;

Although the governor is empowered to cut jobs to balance the budget, the administration also appreciates the difficulty Ben Cayetano experienced as governor trying to lay off employees 15 years ago. In his memoirs, Cayetano wrote about trying to lay off 1,300 employees during a budget crisis and being able to eliminate only 150 jobs.