Court rejects UPW suit to stop state layoffs


POSTED: Saturday, November 14, 2009

The state's power to lay off workers to balance the budget has been upheld in court, but that doesn't help to balance the budget, which a top official says needs another $500 million.

In court yesterday, Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto said Gov. Linda Lingle is within her rights to fire workers to balance the budget.

An estimated 650 civil service and exempt state workers are being laid off, retiring or just leaving the job by the end of the year. The state says it can't estimate how much will be saved because it still has to pay vacation and unemployment insurance.

Union attorney Charles Khim represented two United Public Worker members who lost their job at a Big Island prison Lingle closed to save money. Khim argued that “;there is no great economic downturn. ... The governor said that because the HGEA (Hawaii Government Employees Association) gave in to furloughs, we got enough money.”;

Lisa Ginoza, first deputy attorney general, told Sakamoto, “;Mr. Khim does not have any facts; there are a lot of inaccuracies.”;

Sakamoto replied, “;I agree.”;

;[Preview]  Layoffs begin for government employees

The state began what will be 649 layoffs of government employees.

Watch ]



;[Preview]  Failed efforts by UPW to block layoffs

In lawsuits filed by UPW members to block layoffs, a judge ruled that the Governor has the right to fire workers to save money.

Watch ]


Although Sakamoto allowed the case to continue as a class-action lawsuit, he denied Khim's request for a preliminary injunction, saying that “;the state has a constitutional obligation to balance the budget, maintain fiscal responsibility.”;

After the hearing, Georgina Kawamura, state budget director, said the state has been working to handle a two-year budget shortfall estimated at $1 billion.

Of that, Kawamura said, officials figure that they can cut $500 million with a combination of state furloughs and layoffs, spending restrictions, a hiring freeze and canceling programs.

“;We are still along way from presenting a balanced budget,”; Kawamura said.

The budget director said “;more discussion is needed”; before the state considers whether more layoffs are needed to balance the budget.

Marie Laderta, the state human resources director, praised Sakamoto's action, calling it “;encouraging and appropriate,”; and noted that the state is still meeting with the blue-collar UPW in hopes of reaching a contract settlement.

Two of the state public worker unions, teachers and white-collar workers have settled, taking furloughs, but both UPW and the state's university professors have not settled.

“;Until we have some certainty in our labor talks, we still can't balance the budget,”; Kawamura said.

Meanwhile, one bit of uncertainty has been cleared up.

Friday is a furlough day and also a scheduled payday.

Russell Pang, spokesman for Lingle, said state workers who do not have their pay checks directly deposited will be paid on Thursday.

“;They can then cash their checks the next day, on payday,”; Pang said.