State workers vote on new contract

Dan Bitner
Dan Bitner
Lloyd Wong
Lloyd Wong

By Leland Kim - bio | email

HONOLULU (KHNL) -   Members of the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA), began voting on a new contract Thursday.

It will save the state $204 million dollars over the next two years, but it means furlough days and a pay cut.

It's obviously a situation no one wants to be in.  Many realize the state is in a difficult financial situation and they have to share the burden.  But they are concerned about how the new contract will change how they live their lives.

This could be one of the most important votes of their lives.  Members of HGEA march in to ratify or reject their new contract.

"It's all fifty/fifty," said Lloyd Wong, a state employee who works in the state judiciary.  "Some people like it and some people don't."

"The more than 29,000 members are considering an offer that calls for 18 furlough days for the current fiscal year, and 24 for the following year.  This translates to an eight percent pay cut.

"If there is a budget issue, it's got to be taken care of," said Dan Bitner, a project engineer with the state Department of Transportation.   "We all have to sacrifice; we all have to give a little."

But some wonder about the disparity between state and city employees.

"Because if they look at the contract that's up for vote now, city and county doesn't get any furlough days, but the executive branch, the judiciary, and other departments are required to take furlough days for the next nine months," said Wong, who has worked for the state for 23 years.

The vote comes on a day celebrating state workers.

"It's ironic that today we're going to be honoring our employees of the year, our managers of the year, and our teams of the year," said Gov. Linda Lingle, R-Hawaii. "And as you can tell by my interaction with them, I'm very close to a lot of them."

She remains optimistic.

"Well, I am hopeful that our employees will ratify the contract so we can get back and focus on our work," said Lingle.

But even if they ratify this contract, the worst may not be over.  Lawsuits and a growing budget gap could force the state to take drastic measures.

"It tends to send us back to the one thing everybody agrees under the law that we can do which is to lay people off," said Lingle.  "And that has not been our first choice but it sometimes becomes the only choice."

And today, state employees have a choice, to either approve or reject a contract that will allow them to continue working.

"So going on furlough seems to be a better option than getting laid off because going on furlough, everybody participates, everybody sacrifices a little bit," said Bitner.  "Taxpayers sacrifice all the time."

Members are voting today, tomorrow and Monday.  They expect to have the votes counted by Monday evening.