In a March 16 message to the people of Hawaii, the governor said: “In the last 100 days we have seen the first glimpses of what cooperation and a functioning government can do for the people of Hawaii.”
He went on to list examples of his successes, from launching public-private partnerships to tackling homelessness. But the claim that caught Civil Beat’s eye dealt with job creation in the state.
Abercrombie said he, “Cooperated with public sector unions to put thousands of federally funded workers back on the job.” (A screenshot of the email appears below.)
(By the way, we learned along the way that “back on the job” means working on what had been furlough days. Most state employees had been required to take two days off a month.)
On March 17 we asked the governor’s office to tell us where those jobs were. A week later, we got our answer.
1) Since the Abercrombie administration took office, how many federally funded workers have been put back to work?
2) What jobs are they?
3) Do you know what public sector unions were involved in the negotiations?
4) Do you know the role the governor played in encouraging this job creation?
5) Are the jobs long-term or short-term?
On March 23, Deputy Director Barbara Krieg of the Human Resources Department responded to Civil Beat via email. Here is a portion of that email:
“The statement in the press release referred to agreements the State Executive Branch negotiated at the Governor’s direction with two unions, the United Public Workers (UPW) and Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) to bring federally funded (and specially funded) State employees back to work from the furloughs. The total number of State employees returning to work on furlough days as a result of the agreements is still being calculated and will follow shortly. The employees work in a wide variety of positions at the various State agencies, in both “blue collar” and “white collar” positions.
The return of these employees is important because it facilitates the restoration of critical government functions that were lost due to the previous administration’s furloughs. The Governor was instrumental in facilitating the agreements with the unions.
Please note that these agreements provided for the return to work by existing State employees. They did not result in the creation of new jobs (as we understand your reference to “job creation” in the questions below).”
Based on the email sent by Krieg, it did not appear that the department had specific numbers for federally funded workers back on the job.
Civil Beat did some independent research and shared it with the administration. This article from the Honolulu Star-Advertiser claims collaboration between Abercrombie and the United Public Workers union resulted in 1,200 federal employees being put back to work.
But that would be barely more than a thousand federal jobs. Not thousands.
After Civil Beat posted this Fact Check as “In Progress,” Krieg sent another email. She wrote, “Further to my email yesterday, there are slightly more than 4900 employees returned from furloughs as a result of the union agreements. This includes just over 3700 for HGEA members and just over 1200 for UPW members.”
But this still didn’t answer the question. We asked how many of those 4,900 were federally funded workers, as Abercrombie specifically indicated.
A spokesman with the department told Civil Beat it did not have the specific numbers for federally funded workers. We then asked where the governor could have got his information from, if the Human Resources Department didn’t know.
The response: “I don’t have an answer for that.”
Finally, Civil Beat went back to Abercrombie’s press team for clarification.
“Those positions are Federally funded and special funded,” wrote Donalyn Dela Cruz, the governor’s spokeswoman, referring to the 4,900 workers.
Asked whether she could elaborate on where the jobs were, she replied: “I’d have to ask each department to describe those positions which may be an arduous task.” Dela Cruz noted to Civil Beat that she had met some of the federally funded workers and said they were great assets to the state.
In a last ditch effort, Civil Beat contacted HGEA, to see if it could provide the context we sought. A spokeswoman for HGEA told Civil Beat by email: “The workers don’t return until April 1st. If you want the actual numbers and source of funding, you will need to ask the Department of Human Resources Development.”
And round and round we go.
Ultimately, it has taken a long time to get to the bottom of a question raised by a straightforward statement by the governor.
What we do know is that there’s consensus among the unions and the administration that nearly 5,000 workers will no longer have to be furloughed.
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