Ige announces furloughs: State’s largest unions push back against cutbacks slated for Jan. 1

  • David Ige

Thousands of state workers will begin furloughs next month as the state struggles to fill a massive budget shortfall.

Gov. David Ige announced Wednesday that, beginning Jan. 1, about 10,160 state executive branch employees will be subject to furloughs for two days out of every month.

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Because of the economic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic, the state is projecting a $1.4 billion shortfall in the general fund for each of the next four years, Ige said. The furloughs, if maintained for a year, will save the state approximately $300 million.

“I have taken every action possible to avoid furloughs, because I know how hard this will be for employees and their families,” Ige said, adding that the furloughs will reduce employees’ pay by about 9.2%.

Ige said he and his cabinet members will voluntarily have their pay cut by 9.2% to match what the employees are facing.

Ige noted that “the harsher alternative to furloughs is layoffs, which have already complicated the lives of thousands of fellow citizens who work in the private sector.”

While the furloughs will affect the majority of state workers, they will not be applied to about 4,600 workers who support 24/7 functions or whose positions are funded through non-general fund sources.

This includes registered nurses, first responders, firefighters and employees of the Departments of Transportation and Commerce and Consumer Affairs.

University of Hawaii teachers and faculty also face furloughs, although Ige said they will operate under a different furlough system that may reduce their hours by less than two days a month.

The Department of Education and UH will announce their furlough plans in the future, but Ige said that the last time UH underwent furloughs, the cuts were timed to primarily take effect during the winter and summer breaks, to minimize impacts on student instructional days.

Ige said the furloughs are the latest cost-saving measure implemented by the state. Others include withdrawing $345 million from the state’s rainy-day fund and $303 from other funds, issuing $750 million in short-term bonds to cover operating expenses, and reducing the fiscal year 2021 budget by $205 million.

Furthermore, Ige said the state will seek to cut program budgets by $600 million each year beginning in fiscal year 2022.

Ige said the administration has discussed the matter with unions representing state workers, but a joint statement from four major unions on Wednesday expressed unified opposition to the governor’s plan.

A joint statement by the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly and the United Public Workers condemned the plan, saying it will bring additional hardship to already struggling workers.

“These drastic cuts will carry devastating, long-lasting consequences, not only for state workers and their families,” the statement read. “Mass pay cuts would throttle a key pillar of Hawaii’s economy — government — at a time when the tourism industry is still extremely weak and construction is slowing. This is a dangerous and badly timed policy decision that key lawmakers have publicly stated is not necessary at this time.

“Our elected leaders must do everything possible to avoid repeating the devastating history of the furloughs in 2009 and 2010, when public offices and facilities were forced to reduce their hours, and some — schools included — closed for several days a month,” the statement went on. “The public had to contend with services that were eliminated or endure scaled-back or delayed services while our children were denied a quality public education.”

Randy Perreira, HGEA executive director, said in a press conference Ige’s claims that furloughs will mitigate the need for layoffs are misleading. Perreira said he believes the budget cuts for the next fiscal year cannot be implemented without layoffs.

Perreira said he does not believe the furloughs need to be implemented immediately, particularly so close to the holidays, and that Ige’s budgetary projections are based on old numbers that don’t take into account the marginal increases to tourism in recent weeks.

“The only proposal (the state) has put before us is to do furloughs for four years,” Perreira said, adding that there has been little negotiation between the state and HGEA.

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Ige did not say when the furloughs might cease, only that he intends to end them “as soon as they are no longer necessary.”

Email Michael Brestovansky at mbrestovansky@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

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