UH-Hilo preparing for state furloughs

Hawaii’s educators are among state employees facing monthly furloughs in the new year as the state continues to grapple with the economic fallout of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Gov. David Ige on Wednesday announced that state employees will be furloughed two days a month beginning Jan. 1 to help balance the state budget.

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University of Hawaii spokesman Dan Meisenzahl said nearly 99% of the UH system’s more than 9,000 employees are state employees.

Details about the upcoming furloughs are still being finalized, he said, but information likely will be sent to employees by early this week.

There will be some exemptions, like positions that are partially or fully federally funded, but Meisenzahl said those exemptions are few and far between.

According to Meisenzahl, UH already has committed to a Monday-Friday scheduled for the spring semester, and the university system will work to honor those scheduling commitments.

“We’ll figure out a way to meet our commitment to provide furloughs and meet the demands of our students and continue to provide a high-quality education,” Meisenzahl said.

Meisenzahl said he expects the impacts of the furloughs on students to be minimal.

“That might just be optimism … (but) we’re confident we’ll be able to continue to deliver the high-quality education that we’re known for.”

Unlike other state departments, UH has a secondary funding source through tuition revenue.

Meisenzahl also said that UH has a significant role to play in the state’s recovery.

“This is an opportunity to reinvent ourselves internally and also meet the (changing) workforce demands of the state.”

The state Department of Education also is planning for the state-mandated furloughs.

In a video posted last week to Vimeo, Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said the state Department of Education’s furlough plans cover all of its 21,900 employees, except for casual employees or those whose positions are federally or special funded.

Kishimoto said the plan includes six furlough days between Jan. 1 and June 30, 2021, for 10-month employees, and 10 days during the same time period for 12-month employees, which is fewer than the two days per month that the executive branch is implementing.

“Our planned furlough days take into account that we lost nine instructional days at the beginning of this school year,” she said. “We wanted to minimize any further loss of instructional days for students. It pains me to see our employees, whose commitment and dedication remained unwavering throughout the thick of this pandemic, impacted in this manner.”

“I want to emphasize that this situation is not a reflection of all the hard work that you have and continue to deliver on.”

Meanwhile, the state’s union leaders have called on Ige to stop the furloughs.

In a written statement issued Thursday, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the University of Hawaii Public Assembly and the United Public Workers said union leaders are hearing reports of confusion among top department heads about how they are supposed to roll out the furloughs, and there are contradictions in the directives.

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“Announcing a drastic nearly 10% pay cut to workers through a furlough will hobble a key pillar of Hawaii’s economic engine — government workers — when economic recovery is so critical,” the unions said. “HGEA, HSTA, UPW, and UHPA collectively call on the governor to halt this ill-timed, poorly planned furlough implementation and to respect the contracts of tens of thousands of his dedicated employees.”

Email Stephanie Salmons at ssalmons@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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