Furloughs Face a Supreme Decision

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It's a big week for a lot of state employees.  On Wednesday the California Supreme Court will hear arguments as to whether or not Governor Schwarzenegger's order for work furloughs is legal

The unpaid days off began in February 2009 when Schwarzenegger ordered two furlough days each month for some 200,000 state employees. Those furloughs continued until June of this year. That was round one.

Then came round two in August when he upped that number to three.  Three  unpaid days off each month equates to a reduction in pay of 14 percent per employee.  

This has put the governor at odds with (among others) State Controller John Chiang who believes that it's up to the Legislature to determine the pay of state employees and how many days they should work.  Chiang has already threatened to start issuing i.o.u.'s if a budget deal doesn't get done soon.

Professional Engineers in Government is leading the charge with these three lawsuits challenging the legality of Schwarzenegger's furlough orders.  Last month Alameda County Superior Court Judge Steven A. Brick issued a temporary restraining order preventing the Governor from imposing the unpaid furlough days on state workers.  Siding with the Employees, Brick cited economic hardship in his decision.

If the state wasn't more than $19 billion in the hole, or even if a budget was in place none of this would likely be happening.  According to Lynelle Jolley of the State Department of Personnel Administration, the 17 months of furloughs added $1.6 billion to the state's general fund.  Cool.  Only $18 billion to go.  Will these state employees have to wait that long?   

It's easy to get caught up in the numbers in a situation like this.  But it really comes down to people.  200,000 of them.  People with families, mortgages and bills. Many state employees aren't getting the hours or the pay they signed up for when they took their jobs.  Sure, it would be nice to work a shorter week, but in a tough economy that shows no signs of letting up, that 14 percent is a big hit to the pocketbook. 

On Wednesday the court's seven justices will hear arguments in the case and it could take as long as 90 days for a decision to come down.  Want to watch it? You can at www.calchannel.com.  Plan on carving about an hour and a half out of your day.


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