State, but not county, workers face furloughs

  • HR Director Bill Brilhante

  • KIM

  • Hawaii County employees perform shoulder improvements on Mamalahoa Highway in front of Holualoa Elementary School in this 2019 file photo. (Laura Ruminski/West Hawaii Today)

Gov. David Ige’s proposal to help patch the state’s budget hole by instituting twice-monthly unpaid furlough days for most union employees won’t affect Hawaii County workers, at least in the short term.

The governor, meeting Monday with the state’s six public worker unions, said he expects the state to be billions of dollars in deficit and proposed the furloughs, achieving a 9.23% salary cut beginning Dec. 1 and lasting four years, according to a Tuesday posting on the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly’s website.

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“We want to be absolutely clear and transparent,” the post said. “Governor Ige has not put forward any formal proposal to UHPA nor any of the other unions to initiate mid-term bargaining on these additional steps and it is not clear what the additional steps would entail.”

The University of Hawaii accounts for about 7,000 of the state’s approximately 60,000 state and local union employees. Spokesmen for both the governor’s office and Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state’s largest public worker union, said they’re not commenting at this time.

Whether the state proceeds with its plans or not, Hawaii County employees shouldn’t feel the pinch.

“All of the furlough discussion does not affect the county government,” Mayor Harry Kim said Wednesday.

Kim said the governor, in his regular meetings with the mayors, has kept them apprised of his plans. The state budget is different from county budgets because its revenue sources — income taxes, general excise taxes and transient accommodations taxes, mainly — react more immediately to economic downturns. The counties, on the other hand, rely primarily on property taxes, which react more slowly to downturns.

Kim said the county budget through June 30 is fixed, relying on trims in spending and the infusion of federal coronavirus relief to keep workers working. Not only does an employed workforce help keep the economy ticking, it also performs important and essential duties, Kim said.

“They’re not there just collecting their pay; they’re an important part of seeing that things get done,” Kim said. “Furloughs are not part of the plan.”

The county’s approximately 2,400 union workers aren’t part of the negotiations and most likely won’t experience furloughs until, at earliest, July 1, when their new contracts kick in, said county Human Resources Director Bill Brilhante.

Brilhante said the normal collective bargaining process, where the state, the four counties and union negotiators hash out contracts, is ongoing for contracts beginning July 1.

The governor, meanwhile, is looking at negotiating on a separate tract with union representatives to put emergency provisions in place.

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Both types of contracts, if agreed to by negotiators, must go to the union rank-and-file members for ratification.

“Although we’re all part of the same union, a decision was made by the state to go independently to reach out to the unions,” Brilhante said. “The county is pretty much financially OK right now … but going forward for next fiscal year, I can’t say.”

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