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Court rules against governor over furloughs

January 4, 2010 7:13:07 PM PST
There was a major court victory for state employees and a blow to the governor. A judge ruled he abused his discretion by ordering furloughs to save the state money, but employees can't count their back pay yet.

The California Supreme Court will ultimately decide the legality of state worker's furloughs. Out of two dozen lawsuits, so far the governor has lost five and the latest one affects at least 50,000 workers.

Tens of thousands of state workers started off the new year with a spring in their step.

A judge late last week handed SEIU-Local 1000, the state's largest public employee union a victory ruling Governor Schwarzenegger overstepped his authority when he ordered three unpaid furlough days a month to save more than a $1 billion.

"I was just elated to hear that, so far, we have won this step towards possibly getting our furlough days back and even some pay," DMV worker Paula Hayes said.

While the union plans to seek back pay and an immediate stop to the furloughs, the Schwarzenegger administration is already preparing an appeal to the California Supreme Court.

It'll argue the governor's use of the Emergency Services Act is necessary to prevent the state from going over a financial cliff.

"We believe, just like the private sector is cutting back, that state workers need to cut back as well. There's no reason state workers should be shielded from the same economy that everybody else if facing," Governor Press Secretary Aaron McLear said.

The furloughs have been a point of contention between the governor and state workers for more than a year now -- 24 lawsuits altogether have been filed.

Assembly Speaker Karen Bass has concerns over what was essentially a 15 percent pay cut.

"It has hit all the small businesses in the area. It has led to the foreclosures because some state workers were not able to pay their mortgages," she said.

But with the recession forcing leaders to slash tens of billions from the state budget last year, there is nowhere else to cut, which could mean the dreaded "L" word.

"It'd be a lot of layoffs. I don't have the calculation, but it would be layoffs that would equal $1.4 billion. The average state worker probably makes $50-60,000. So you can do the math from there," McLear said.

State workers think there are ways to shrink the budget without furloughs or layoffs.

"I don't understand why the governor can't get it together and figure out a way so that we can have it both ways," Hayes said.

In case you're wondering what the math is, the state would have to reduce its workforce by 28,000 people to achieve more than a $1 billion in savings. California's unemployment rate is above 12 percent.


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