Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald announced Thursday that the state Judiciary will not immediately impose furloughs, and the major Hawaii public workers unions alleged that Gov. David Ige’s plan to furlough more than 10,000 public workers has caused confusion among the governor’s own department heads.

“One day after Gov. David Ige announced plans to furlough tens of thousands of employees in his state workforce, details are emerging showing the so-called plan actually isn’t one,” according to a statement by the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Hawaii State Teachers Association and other public worker unions.

State department heads were given a “very short window” to determine which employees will be furloughed and which will be exempt, and department heads are unsure how the program should be executed, according to the statement from the unions, which included United Public Workers and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.

“It’s downright scary that these are the people who are leading the economic recovery and essential services that affect the health and functioning of our state,” union leaders said in a joint statement issued Thursday. “The Ige administration should halt this ridiculous plan now before more damage is done to the workers, public services and Hawaii’s economy.”

HSTA Teacher march to Hawaii State Capitol in the Rotunda. 13 feb 2017
The Hawaii State Teachers Association, seen here in a 2017 march to the Capitol, joined other public worker unions Thursday in calling on Gov. David Ige to halt his plan for state worker furloughs. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

When asked about those concerns at a news conference on Thursday, Ige replied that “certainly the department heads will be issuing instructions out to all the employees in the different departments and agencies, and we will be getting out those instructions shortly.”

Ige said the Hawaii Constitution gives Recktenwald authority to spend money once it has been appropriated to the Judiciary, “and I don’t have authority over those amounts of monies.” The Judiciary has already received its full authorization for this year, Ige said, which totals about $157 million.

When asked specifically why the Judiciary can delay imposing furloughs while Ige plans to impose them on Jan. 1, Ige replied that he is ordering the furloughs because “by (the) constitution, I’m required to manage the fiscal resources of the state, and clearly we are seeing a reduction of $1.4 billion in the revenues that are coming into the state, and I do know that we are unable to sustain the size of state government” as it stands today.

He added that “I certainly hope that the Judiciary and the Legislature will help with our fiscal situation as appropriate.” The Legislature, which includes the 76 members of the House and Senate, their staffs and other public resources, has a budget for this year of $42.5 million.

Ige announced in a letter to state employees on Wednesday that he ordered state agencies to furlough most state employees for two days a month starting Jan. 1, which the state estimates will save $300 million a year. That works out to a 9.2% pay cut, which will show up in employees’ checks on Jan. 20.

Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald mental health summit held at Aliiolani Hale.
Hawaii Supreme Court Chief Justice Mark Recktenwald says the Judiciary is already funded through the ened of the fiscal year and won’t impose furloughs on its employees just yet. Cory Lum/Civil Beat

His instructions to state department heads will affect 10,160 workers in the executive branch. The furloughs will not apply to employees at agencies that must operate around the clock every day, which means about 4,600 employees such as nurses, corrections officers and state firefighters would be exempt.

Also exempt would be federally funded positions and staffers in the Department of Transportation and the Department of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, whose salaries are financed from special funds that are separate from the state general treasury.

Ige said Wednesday that there will be additional furloughs in the University of Hawaii and Department of Education systems, but that details of those plans will be released later by UH and the Board of Education. The governor said he and his Cabinet will also take pay cuts.

The Judiciary has about 1,800 employees statewide, and Recktenwald said in a letter Thursday that “we are carefully reviewing how best to balance the need to continue to provide court services, the well-being of our employees, and our responsibilities under the collective bargaining laws, with the financial realities the state is facing.

“Although we are not implementing furloughs at this time, our negotiations with the unions continue,” and the Judiciary is continuing to discuss the state’s dire financial situation with the Legislature and the governor’s office, Recktenwald wrote.

The public worker unions contend that Ige cannot unilaterally impose furloughs, while Ige says he has the power to do so.

“All four unions have valid contracts in place and none of the unions have agreed to furloughs,” according to the union statement released Thursday.

The last time furloughs were imposed on public employees in Hawaii was during the Great Recession more than a decade ago.

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