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StarBulletin.com

Some workers resigned, some upset


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POSTED: Friday, October 16, 2009

Iris Takahashi is a single mother raising two children in elementary school and supporting a third in college on her salary, but she took a hit for the state yesterday so it could balance its budget.

By voting for a new employee contract that includes a loss in pay, Takahashi will need a second job to pay for her child's college expenses and child care when schools are closed because of furloughs.

Included in the two-year contract are up to 42 furlough days for members of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, equal to about an 8 percent wage cut.

Contract ratification began yesterday for 30,000 union members and will continue through Monday. Some were angry about the state's offer; others were relieved or resigned.

Takahashi, 40, estimates the furloughs and a 23 percent increase in medical insurance will cost her $500 a month in pay as a clinic operations section chief with the Department of Health.

“;As a single mom, it's more of a struggle for me,”; she said. “;I'm kind of anxious to just get on with it.”;

“;Having furlough days is better,”; she said. “;At least I can still find a job.”;

; James Bott, who has an adopted son and a foster son, said the wage cut means he will be working more side jobs to supplement his full-time work as a Department of Education social worker.

“;We all got to do our part,”; he said, adding public sentiment appeared to be against union members.

One Health Department employee, who declined to give his name, said he would have preferred Lingle's original proposal of 36 furlough days to avoid layoffs and its damage to employee morale.

Reyna Tasi of McCully found the proposal “;pretty upsetting”; and felt it unfairly burdens employees to balance the budget rather than raising taxes.

She said the proposal means her clients, after receiving food stamps and unemployment pay, will have a larger monthly income than she does as an employee at the Department of Human Services.

“;I'll be making less than my clients,”; said Tasi, a single mother of two who expects she will need an additional job.

Nora Schubert blamed the governor for the opposition to public employees.

“;She's turned the government worker into the enemy,”; she said. “;When the economy is bad, government services are more needed because families are in a crisis.”;

Also opposed to the contract was Peter Kealoha, an educational assistant who said the union failed to persuade him to vote yes before the vote.

“;Now I have to get a second job,”; he said. “;There are so many people that I've talked to who are angry.”;

Joseph Thomas, a county employee and member of the union's negotiating team, said he believes union members will ratify the contract.

“;I think they have been frustrated for a long time and want to get it over with,”; he said. “;If it's not passed, I'd be surprised.”;