Have you wondered why the unions for state employees are all filing separate but similar motions to have the courts review the furlough plan? Insiders in the Hawaii legal community say there is a simple explanation.
There are several judges who could rule on the legality of the furlough plans, and it is reasonable to assume that lawyers for both the unions and the state have their own ideas about which judges, based on past ruling, would likely be sympathetic to their side. I wouldn't bet on their being right, mind you; most judges, especially the best ones, are unpredictable. But still.
Judge Carl Sakamoto bit. He has agreed to give the issue a hearing on July 2, one day after the furlough plan technically begins and a few days before the first actual furloughs. And what will the legal issue be?
The union lawyers say Hawaii is one of only five states with collective bargaining protections hard-wired into the state constitution.
It's not clear to me that this precludes the governor cutting back hours due to lack of funding, because the last collective bargaining agreements specifically reserved to her, "the public employer," the right to "release" employees for lack of funds.
But the point, at this point, is that the unions will argue that this should be decided by a judge since, as they will argue, it's a constitutional issue.
The biggest fear that the unions should have is pyrrhic victory: a slapdown order killing the furloughs, leaving the governor with no option but to "release" employees altogether -- the layoff card.
A more likely outcome is that the two sides, already in contract negotiations with a federal mediator helping out, will work out some kind of revised version of the current plan, possibly with the legislature raising taxes again, especially if lawmakers don't care about being re-elected.