Appellate court delays decision on furloughs to hear more arguments

A state appellate court on Tuesday temporarily delayed three lower-court decisions to halt the forced furloughs of thousands of state employees who have been ordered to take three unpaid days off each month to help balance the state budget.

The San Francisco-based 1st District Court of Appeal, in responses to three suits brought against the administration by public employee unions and their allies, said it wanted to get more information about the issue before issuing a final decision.

The action means that this Friday, April 2, will be a furloughed day for many state employees. About 53,000 state workers – those who work for what are called special-fee departments – are not covered by the furloughs.

“This provides the certainty that employees and departments need to know how to deal with this coming Friday,” said Lynelle Jolley, a spokeswoman for the Department of Personnel Administration, which represents the administration in negotiations with state-employee unions.

The forced furloughs have been challenged by a number of different groups, mostly public employee unions. The three cases at issue on Tuesday involved suits filed by SEIU Local 1000, the California Attorneys, Administrative Law Judges, and Hearing Officers in State Employment, also known as CASE; and the Union of American Physicians and Dentists.
The court’s move temporarily blocks the recent decisions by Alameda County Superior Court Judge Frank Roesch, who ordered a halt to the furloughs. He did not address the issue of whether employees who were required to take the unpaid days off were eligible for back pay.

The Schwarzenegger administration has sought furloughs to help plug a $20 billion budget shortage.

“Just like every California family and business is doing, we must cut back in state government. State employee compensation should not be shielded from the same economic realities the rest of the state is facing,” said Aaron McLear, a spokesman for the governor.

More than two-dozen lawsuits, most of them from public-employee unions, have challenged the furloughs, contending that they violate collective bargaining contracts or are unconstitutional.

The furloughs are scheduled to end at mid-year, but a pay cut is expected to take its place.

The Schwarzenegger administration has petitioned to have seven furlough cases — including the three targeted by the appellate court’s action on Tuesday — heard directly by the state Supreme Court. To date, there has been no response to that request.

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