Public workers unions calls Ige’s furlough plan ‘devastating’

Updated: Dec. 9, 2020 at 3:40 PM HST
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HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Public worker unions called the governor’s furlough plan “devastating,” and said the pay cuts would have long-lasting consequences in the islands.

In a joint statement Wednesday, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii State Teachers Association, and University of Hawaii Professional Assembly said the furloughs of two days a month, starting in January, were short-sighted and “baffling” given the unknowns ahead.

The unions also blasted the timing of the announcement during the holidays.

““As we’re heading into the holiday season, this is a horrible holiday gift,” said Corey Rosenlee, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

“I think if I were one of our local retail merchants, or one of our local restaurants, I would be worried right now because government employees are now very likely to slow down whatever holiday spending that they would consider prior to this announcement,” said Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

[Read more: Under governor’s furlough plan, most state workers will see a 9% pay cut in 2021]

Congress has signaled some movement on a second COVID-19 relief package, though it’s unclear when one might be passed ― and whether it will include monies that could be used to shore up the budget.

The governor announced the furlough plan in a news conference Wednesday, saying most state workers would take what amounts to a 9% pay cut in the new year.

He said the furloughs were a “last resort.”

But the unions said other options are still available. And they said pay cuts for public workers will have broader consequences, including to services and to tax revenues.

“Now as you go forward, if we can’t recover, if we can’t reopen tourism at the level that we would like to, very clearly, you would come to a point where you would need to take perhaps some drastic action. But it’s not now,” Perreira said.

He also was critical of the governor’s statement that he would negotiate with the unions on the furloughs. He said it was a unilateral decision.

“Pretty much it seems that he’s made a decision, and he’s telling everyone he’s going to negotiate, but it’s kinda like telling somebody ok, you’re gonna die, but you can choose between poison or a shot in the head,” Perreira said.

Rosenlee said the furloughs will also have a lasting negative impact on the state’s public school system.

“We know the devastating impacts of Furlough Fridays 11 years ago that led to the teacher shortage crisis, and by trying to impose budget cuts and doing furloughs and the pandemic -- I’m very scared of what’s going to happen to our education system and what’s going to happen to our keiki after all of this is done,” he said.

The HSTA is also considering legal action to block the furloughs from taking effect, claiming that the governor’s decision violates collective bargaining laws.

“We’re willing to take the governor to court in order to make sure that we can protect our schools and make sure that our keiki have a quality education,” Rosenlee said.

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