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StarBulletin.com

Proposal would benefit laid-off state workers on verge of retirement


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POSTED: Wednesday, August 19, 2009

State employees who had planned to retire in December, but instead received layoff notices informing them of their jobs being cut Nov. 13, could be allowed to retire as planned.

The option is being discussed between the state and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest public-worker union.

In a notice to its 40,000 members, the HGEA said the state has offered to make the retirement option available for those who have submitted the paperwork stating their intention to retire at the end of the year. Potential retirees would have to waive their rights to “;bump”; less senior members, and they would not be able to change their mind.

The state has issued 1,100 layoff notices, but it was not immediately known how many workers had planned to retire.

The state Employees Retirement System estimates there could be as many as 2,250 state workers retiring Dec. 31, well above the usual 500 to 600, the union said.

“;That certainly is a means—a better means in our eyes—than trying to lay off people,”; Nora Nomura, HGEA's deputy executive director, said yesterday. “;If there was this ability for people to retire instead of being laid off, you would get savings in that way just as you would in a layoff.”;

Nomura said the union would support the proposal but wants employees to be able to change their mind if the layoffs are rescinded. She said the state's proposal was received Thursday, and the union responded Monday.

Marie Laderta, director of the state Department of Human Resources Development, said the retirement option was one of several still being discussed with union leaders, but she could not comment on specific proposals.

“;At this point all I can say is that we're still consulting with the union, and we're looking at various options,”; Laderta said yesterday.

“;Laying anybody off is not a good thing,”; she added. “;As humane as we've tried to be, it's not a pleasant experience. But because we have to do it, we are examining and looking at all different options, including those that might have the least harmful impact on our employees.”;

With cuts to benefits already this year and more expected in the next year due to the state's economic situation, the number of retirements was expected to be higher than usual this year.

Nomura said the number of state employees who retired in June, the end of the 2009 fiscal year, was around 300, about five times the typical average.

Gov. Linda Lingle's administration is looking at closing an estimated $786 million budget shortfall.

Lingle has said her administration would prefer furloughs, but a judge has blocked her from starting them without first consulting with unions. Negotiations have stalled over the number of mandatory furlough days that would be required.

Meanwhile, no new contract talks are scheduled.