Public opinion divided over state furlough plan

Shirley Fujii
Shirley Fujii
Lori Ann Iwamoto
Lori Ann Iwamoto

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) - Furlough or layoffs? State workers didn't know what the final decision would be Monday afternoon. Labor officials met with negotiators from the state and county government to come up with a solution.

Last week, a circuit court judge ruled the state could not impose mandatory furloughs on its employees without going through the collective bargaining process.

Monday afternoon, they were at Honolulu Hale trying to come up with a solution that's agreeable to state workers as well as the state.

As far as public opinion? It seems to be evenly divided, depending on whether or not you work for the government.

Hawaii state workers are in limbo, wondering if they'll get furloughed, laid off, or something completely different. Gov. Linda Lingle's (R-Hawaii) plan to furlough state workers three days a month got rejected last week in circuit court. It would have saved close to $700 million, helping to close a $5 billion shortfall through the end of 2013.

It's a divisive issue, and how you feel about it largely depends on who you work for. State workers say the governor's plan is unfair to them.

"We're not against furloughs but it should be more equitable," said Shirley Fujii, a state employee.

And non-state workers believe the furlough plan makes sense.

"I think they should go ahead and take the furlough because if they end up losing their jobs, what's the chance of them getting another job, right?" said Lori Ann Iwamoto, who lives on the leeward coast.

State workers feel they're being "singled out" by those in the private sector to rescue the state from this financial crisis.

"I think that they must realize that we also pay taxes like everybody else and we have the same expenses: mortgages, child care," said Fujii.

But non-state workers say they've had to deal with pay cuts and layoffs for months, and it's time for state employees to make some sacrifices.

"On the long run, it would be better for them," said Iwamoto. "They won't lose their jobs that way. It's a lower risk for them to lose their jobs."

How many jobs are saved or lost depends on what happens between union officials and state negotiators.

Labor officials wanted to sit down with the governor to come up with a compromise after the verdict came down last week. But the state said it would only do so if it got a formal proposal. So now, it's a game of wait and see to find out what happens from this meeting.