Schwarzenegger: 2 Days Off, Whether You Like it Or Not!

Governor can force workers to take 2 days off a month

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    NEWSLETTERS

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    A California judge has ruled that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has authority to furlough state employees.

    A Sacramento County Superior Court judge on Thursday gave Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger a victory in his attempt to deal with California's budget deficit, ruling that the governor has authority to furlough tens of thousands of state workers.

    The two-day-a-month furloughs are scheduled to start Feb. 6 and would apply to 238,000 government employees, although many of those would be exempt.

    Judge: Schwarzenegger Can Furlough State Workers

    [BAY] Judge: Schwarzenegger Can Furlough State Workers
    State workers won't be working as many days, after a court upheld Gov. Schwarzenegger's efforts to force employees to take days off without pay. (Published Thursday, Jan 29, 2009)

    Two employee unions had challenged Schwarzenegger's executive order, saying he did not have authority to order furloughs on his own.

    Judge Patrick Marlette disagreed. In a written preliminary ruling, he said the governor has "express authority to make the challenged order."

    He also said certain union agreements allow the administration to reduce employee hours if the state runs short of money. Schwarzenegger has declared a fiscal emergency as California faces a $42 billion budget deficit through June 2010.

    He has said the reduced-work plan will save California about $1.4 billion through June 2010.

    The governor and lawmakers are debating billions of dollars in spending cuts, tax increases and borrowing to close the shortfall.

    "The state is in a huge mess," Marlette told the court in making his ruling final.

    He acknowledged the furloughs might be painful for state workers, but also suggested the governor's order was a sign of the times.

    "Wherever you look, stores are closing, businesses are laying off, investments are crashing," the judge said.

    Workers will be furloughed two Fridays a month starting next week.

    The unions had argued that the governor could not adjust salaries without their consent or unless the Legislature agreed. Schwarzenegger claimed he could make the unilateral move because of the state's fiscal crisis.

    On Wednesday, the governor warned that he would lay off workers if the court had sided with the unions. His office did not have an immediate response Thursday to the judge's decision.

    The furloughs come as the Schwarzenegger administration and the state's largest employee union, Service Employees International Union, Local 1000, are negotiating a new contract for 90,000 workers.

    Negotiations have taken on a new urgency recently as the state slides toward insolvency, SEIU spokesman Jim Zamora said.

    "On the one hand, we'd like to compromise, make some sacrifices to help the state, but also to protect our members ... to protect people from getting laid off," Zamora said.

    Schwarzenegger has sought additional concessions, including eliminating two of state employees' 14 paid holidays.

    The judge's ruling comes amid the backdrop of an economy in rapid decline. Figures released last week showed California's unemployment rate jumped to 9.3 percent, the highest level since January 1994. Private-sector layoffs, store closings and retail bankruptcies are accelerating.

    On Monday, California was forced to begin borrowing from the federal government to keep its unemployment insurance fund solvent. It will need an additional $2.4 billion through the end of this year, as unemployment is expected to keep rising.

    State finance officials have warned that California will run out of cash this month unless Schwarzenegger and lawmakers strike a midyear budget deal to close the growing deficit. The state controller already has delayed payments to taxpayers who are due refunds and already filed their tax returns.

    In addition to the furloughs, Schwarzenegger has ordered state agencies to cut their payrolls by 10 percent, which could lead to layoffs.

    Bruce Blanning, executive director of Professional Engineers in California Government, one of two unions that sued over the governor's furlough plan, said his group has suggested the governor save money by reducing its outsourcing. Outsourcing engineering jobs to private companies costs the state twice as much as hiring its own engineers, he said.

    The union, which represents 13,000 state transportation workers and engineers, was joined in the lawsuit by the California Association of Professional Scientists, which represents nearly 3,000 state scientists.

    SEIU filed an unfair labor practice charge with the state Public Employment Relations Board, and filed a second lawsuit Tuesday challenging the plan. It claims the state did not follow established legal practice when Schwarzenegger imposed the order at the end of December.

    The state has not yet responded and that case was not part of Thursday's hearing.

    Most state constitutional officers, such as the elected state treasurer and attorney general, have said they do not have to comply with the governor's furlough plan.

    In an earlier filing with the court, state Controller John Chiang had said he would be unwilling to adjust employees' paychecks to accommodate the furloughs unless ordered by a court to do so. On Thursday, Chiang's office said it had no immediate reaction to the judge's ruling.A Sacramento County Superior Court judge on Thursday sided with Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger in his bid to save money by forcing tens of thousands of state workers to take days off without pay.

    The two-day-a-month furloughs are scheduled to start Feb. 6 and would apply to 238,000 state workers, although many of those would be exempt.

    Two employee unions had challenged Schwarzenegger's executive order, saying he did not have authority to order furloughs on his own.

    Judge Patrick Marlette disagreed. In a preliminary ruling, he said the governor has "express authority to make the challenged order."

    He also said certain union agreements allow the administration to reduce employee hours if the state runs short of money. Schwarzenegger has declared a fiscal emergency as California faces a $42 billion budget deficit through June 2010.

    He and lawmakers are debating billions of dollars in spending cuts, tax increases and borrowing to close the shortfall.

    "The current circumstances constitute an emergency," Marlette said. "The challenged order is reasonable and necessary."

    He is scheduled to issue a final ruling later.A California judge has ruled that Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger has authority to furlough state employees.
         
    The Sacramento County judge had been hearing a lawsuit challenging Schwarzenegger's furlough plan.

    The governor wants state employees to take two days off a month without pay as the state faces a $41.6 billion deficit through the end of June 2010.

    Union leaders are fighting the plan but Schwarzenegger says he'll be forced to lay off workers unless concessions are made.