State worker union files lawsuit against Gov. Ige on furloughs as delay is announced

Coronavirus

HONOLULU (KHON2) — Gov. David Ige announced on Wednesday, Dec. 23, that he will be delaying his plan for mandatory furloughs. The furloughs will no longer start on Jan. 1, 2021, but could be implemented at a later time.

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State workers would be forced to take two days off per month under the furlough plan, which amounts to about a 9% pay cut.

The reason Gov. Ige is delaying the furloughs is due to funding in the $900 billion congressional stimulus bill. Through the bill, the state would have access to federal funds to pay for things like vaccine distribution, testing and education, which would free up more money in the state’s bank account.

The delay is a welcome one for state workers.

“They’re relieved. You know, it’s Christmas in a couple of days, and a lot of them have been holding back buying Christmas gifts for family members, on buying decorations and celebrating the holidays,” said Liz Ho, United Public Workers (UPW) administrator.

While it is an immediate reassurance, Ho said many workers part of the UPW — which represents corrections officers, state groundskeepers, electricians and utility workers — are still worried about what may come.

“They’re anxious,” said Ho. “[They asked] a lot of questions about, you know, how long do you expect the furloughs to last and, they were sharing stories about the impact that these furloughs would have on their lives.”

The Hawaii State Teacher Association (HSTA) said this will help many teachers who were expecting the first furlough day on Jan. 4th before children get back to class.

“You just can’t walk into a classroom and be prepared to teach. So, this will give our teachers that opportunity to set up their classrooms and to get ready for the semester which otherwise would not have been available,” said Corey Rosenlee, HSTA President.

While the delay is a relief for some, furloughs are not completely off the table.

The unions say they will take action against the governor if a furlough is imposed before their contract expires in June of 2021.

“We have a contract in place. It expires on June, 30 2021, and we strongly believe that the governor could not impose furloughs during that period, while we have a valid contract,” said Ho. “If furloughs are imposed on our union members between now and the end of our contract. Yes we will (file) in court and (address) these issues legally.”

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA), which represents about 3,500 workers, has filed a lawsuit against Gov. David Ige intending to block the furlough.  

In a statement, UHPA executive director Christian Fern said:

“Since we have not had the benefit of a discussion to explore alternative solutions to the state’s budget deficit with the governor and his administration, we are resorting to legal action to challenge the governor’s legal right to override our contract terms, including his justification to use emergency proclamations to issue his edict on furloughs.”

The governor’s office has not yet responded to KHON for comment on the lawsuit.

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