Union and state leaders meet with mediator

By Zahid Arab - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - State and union negotiators meet with one main goal in mind, to reach new government worker contracts without furloughs or layoffs. This comes just a day after three labor unions filed separate suits, challenging the governor's plan to balance the budget.

With a federal mediator, both sides held their first formal bargaining session Wednesday afternoon. At the top of the agenda, coming up with the state's $700 million shortfall the next two years.

It's a fight against furloughs.

"The employees should not be the only one sacrificing," said Hawaii Government Employees Association Executive Director Randy Perreira.

A back and forth battle.

"It just doesn't sound logical," said Hawaii Teachers Association President Roger Takabayashi.

Governor Linda Lingle throws furloughs, three unpaid days off a month the next two years for government workers. But unions get defensive as the state attempts to makeup nearly $700 million in shortfall.

"Given the magnitude of the shortfall it's unfair and just unaffordable to bear that total cost," said Perreira.

They say furloughs are essentially pay cuts, about 14% each year. State and union reps entered the arena Wednesday, the first of many steps for fiscal compromise.

The clash is all about power, if no furlough, Governor Linda Lingle says she may result to layoffs, but unions question, can she legally do that?

"She can't just do it unilaterally. She has to call the union people in, they have to make proposals they have to talk back and forth," said Labor Attorney Michael Nauyokas.

After four hours, this round is over with no compromise. But, unions remain optimistic.

"There are other alternatives to settling the deficit," said Takabayashi.

It may take fancy financial footwork like raising taxes, maybe tapping into the rainy day or hurricane relief fund, but unions agree it's time to knock-out furloughs. Union contracts expire June 30th. But, union officials say that's enough time if all sides are willing to come to an agreement, which they believe is the case.