Judge halts furloughs for state workers


POSTED: Thursday, July 02, 2009



Circuit Judge Karl Sakamoto blocked Gov. Linda Lingle’s furlough order today, saying her plan violates the state constitution.

Sakamoto said the furloughs are subject to the collective bargaining process. 

In a court hearing this morning, Sakamoto granted a preliminary injunction against the furloughs ordered for the 15,600 state employees starting this month. The ruling is a victory for the United Public Workers, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Hawaii Government Employees Association, which had requested the injunction.

It is not known if state Attorney General Mark Bennett will appeal the decision. Gov. Lingle has said that if the furloughs were blocked she would go ahead with layoffs.

Lingle insists the furloughs of three days a month for the next two years are needed to reduce the state budget by $688 million and keep it balanced. 

Unions representing teachers and blue- and white-collar workers argued that Lingle does not have the authority. Permitting her to furlough workers violates their contract agreements with the state, the unions contend.

In a court filing yesterday, Attorney General Mark Bennett argued that state law allows Lingle to “relieve an employee from duties because of lack of work or other legitimate reason.”

“She is relieving employees from duty for legitimate reasons,” Bennett said in a court document. “This is the essence of a furlough.”

The unions argue that the furloughs translate into a wage reduction of nearly 14 percent, and that the governor has not attempted collective bargaining for those wage reductions, but has unilaterally imposed them instead.

Lingle has already issued an executive order declaring furloughs will start this month, with July 10 as the first scheduled day without pay.