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Gov. Schwarzenegger's Furlough Days for Thousands of State Workers Ruled 'Illegal'

January 5th, 2010 | Kate Thomas

Image: Kate ThomasCA Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger acted illegally by placing tens of thousands of state employees on unpaid furloughs, a Superior Court judge ruled late Thursday on SEIU Local 1000’s lawsuit to overturn the furlough scheme. The ruling to halt thrice-monthly furloughs marks a much-improved start to 2010 for the state workers, who had seen their salaries slashed roughly 15 percent as a result of the mandated unpaid days off.

Alameda Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch ruled that by ignoring legal restrictions on furloughs, the Schwarzenegger administration overstepped its authority in approving the unpaid days off. Judge Roesch called the furloughs an “abuse of discretion” that interfered with operations of state agencies (like the DMV) and achieved questionable savings. From Roesch’s case ruling:

Moreover, when furloughs are implemented to save money, yet their implementation in some agencies saves nothing and increases costs, such a policy is arbitrary, capricious and unlawful.

“We said all along that the governor’s actions were illegal,” said SEIU Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker. “The governor violated the law and, as a result, people lost money…to remedy that violation, you have to give people back the money they lost.” SEIU Local 1000 first filed suit after the governor began the furloughs in February, in response to the state’s $42 billion budget gap.

Judge Roesch’s ruling could affect up to 50,000 employees represented by SEIU who work at agencies that do not rely on the state’s general fund, as well as tens of thousands of workers represented by two other unions, CASE and UAPD.

More details from SEIU Local 1000 on Judge Roesch’s ruling to halt furloughs after the break.

Judge Frank Roesch’s December 31st ruling is the second consecutive legal victory for Local 1000 on the furlough issue. In November, another Superior Court judge ruled that the governor violated the state insurance code when he included State Fund employees in his unilateral furlough orders.

An administration spokesperson said the governor would appeal and that an automatic suspension of Roesch’s order will result–leaving furloughs in effect and halting consideration of back pay–while an appellate panel considers the case. At a minimum, Judge Roesch’s ruling orders Governor Schwarzenegger to “cease and desist” the furlough of employees whose salaries are paid from special funds. Additional litigation may be necessary to clarify whether Judge Roesch’s order extends to state employees whose salaries are paid from the General Fund. “It remains to be seen whether the governor will continue to waste scarce state resources litigating this issue rather than simply complying with the Court’s order,” said Local 1000 president Yvonne Walker.

SEIU Local 1000 attorneys said they will ask Roesch to put the ruling into immediate effect and stop the furloughs during the appeal. In the State Fund case, Roesch ordered an immediate end to furloughs and reinstatement of back pay. The judge ruled that the governor’s reliance on the state Emergency Services Act, to furlough state workers, was misplaced because an emergency must have some time limit. “The emergency necessitating them was the failure of the Legislature to pass the budgets, though the reach of the orders extended long after those budgets were subsequently passed and signed into law,” the judge wrote.

Roesch ruled that furloughing state employees who are paid from special funds illegally interferes with the operation of specially funded agencies. “When furloughs are implemented to save money, yet their implementation in some agencies saves nothing and increases costs, such a policy is arbitrary, capricious and unlawful,” he said.

Roesch also rejected what he described as Schwarzenegger’s final justification: the need to treat all employees equally, regardless of the source of their agency’s funds. The governor is arguing, in effect, that furloughs should be spread throughout state government “so that all state employees suffer equally, without regard to savings to the General Fund and without lessening the pay cuts suffered by the General Fund employees,” Roesch said. “This is not rationally related to any government purpose.”

» View the Order Granting Petition For Writ of Mandate [PDF]

Read the original news update from SEIU Local 1000 here.

*This post originally appeared in SEIU Blog on January 4, 2009. Reprinted with permission from the author.

About the Author: Kate Thomas is a blogger, web producer and new media coordinator at the Service Employees International Union (SEIU), a labor union with 2.1 million members in the healthcare, public and property service sectors. Kate’s passions include the progressive movement, the many wonders of the Internet and her job working for an organization that is helping to improve the lives of workers and fight for meaningful health care and labor law reform. Prior to working at SEIU, Katie worked for the American Medical Student Association (AMSA) as a communications/public relations coordinator and editor of AMSA’s newsletter appearing in The New Physician magazine.

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