City workers haven’t yet hit the halfway point for furlough days, but it appears Mayor Peter Carlisle is abandoning plans to end the mandated days off before the new fiscal year.

On the campaign trail in August, Carlisle said he would look for ways to halt furloughs immediately upon becoming mayor. He was a vocal critic of furloughs, saying they made city government less efficient and dragged down the private sector.

“What are my legal options?” Carlisle asked in a radio appearance on Rick Hamada’s KHVH talk show. “What’s the legal obligation of the city, and is there a way to break it or not?”

Now that he’s mayor, Carlisle appears more patient.

“They’re going to die of their own death,” Carlisle told reporters on Nov. 30.

What the mayor means is that he won’t incorporate furloughs into the spending plan for the fiscal year beginning July 1 he’ll introduce for the city in March. What that means for thousands of city workers is that they still have 13 furlough days in the next six months. There have been 11 city furlough days since former Mayor Mufi Hannemann announced the cost-saving measure in June.

The Hannemann administration estimated furloughs would save the city $18 million, which means Carlisle opting not to end them early is a $10-million-dollar decision.

But the mayor overshadows the shift in his position with his blunt and often dramatic manner of expressing himself.

“I believe furloughs were invented by the devil,” he said recently, “and should go back to the purgatory where they came from.”

Taking a $100 Million Hit

Asked how the mayor — who has also projected a $100 million shortfall for the city and county — would make up the difference, he glowered. Asked a second time, Carlisle said the city would have to “absorb” the cost.

“With the incredibly generous amount of sick time, the incredibly generous amount of scheduled holidays and the incredibly generous amount of regular vacation days you take anyway, you can essentially permanently make your life (a) four-day work week,” Carlisle said. “I don’t believe that that’s healthy for the government, and I don’t believe that that does any justice or service to the private sector. They have to keep on working and if they can’t get us to help them with what they need to get done, everything just backs up.”

Coming from a man who said he wouldn’t shy away from cutting jobs, Carlisle’s message is clear. Union leaders prepping for a new round of contract negotiations are listening. The chairman of the Honolulu Chapter of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), Stanley Aquino, said he interprets Carlisle’s harsh stance as a message directly to him, and other union leaders.

“I would do the same if I was in his shoes,” Aquino said. “But as a union leader, I am going to try to squeeze whatever I can out of an apple. You know, our last contract we were able to get pretty good raises.”

SHOPO is one of four major unions with a contract that expires in June. In 2007, then-Mayor Hannemann bumped up police pay 33 percent over four years. The increase meant entry-level officers went from earning an average of $38,000 to an average of $52,000.

Aquino said he’s eager to meet with the new mayor, but doesn’t believe it will happen until January.

“We haven’t met with the city at all, and it doesn’t look like we’re going to meet with him until the beginning of the year,” Aquino said. “If he’s going to break any news, it’s going to be bad news, and he doesn’t want to do that during the holidays.”

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