Court battles surround furloughs

A flurry of court fights, union-filed grievances and even a federal intervention are complicating the Schwarzenegger administration’s budget-balancing action requiring state employees to take three Fridays each month off without pay, which amounts to about a 14 percent pay cut and the administration says saves the state about $2 billion annually.

The Social Security Administration, in a filing in Alameda County Superior Court, said the furloughs of personnel in the state Disability Determination Services Division, or DDSD, “does not save the state a single penny and actually costs the state money.” The Social Security Administration estimated the furloughs in the DDSD cost the state about $849,000 a day. The federal government covers the cost and overhead of the furloughed employees. The Social Security filing was submitted as a “statement of interest” in connection with a lawsuit filed against the Schwarzenegger administration by the Union of American Physicians and Doctors. A hearing in that case is scheduled Nov. 16.

In a separate suit filed in San Francisco, the California Medical Association(CMA)contended that the Schwarzenegger administration illegally tapped $6 million in doctors’ fees to help cover a budget shortage and that the furloughs of state workers have hamstrung the licensing of new doctors.  The 35,000-member CMA said the administration furloughs have crippled the enforcement and licensing arms of the Medical Board of California, the state body that regulates California doctors and investigates complaints against them. The administration says the actions were necessary to help resolve the state’s dire budget problems.

Numerous other suits are out there, too.

Those include at least five lawsuits filed in various venues by the Service Employees International Union Local 1000 challenging the forced furloughs, and a separate challenge filed under the Unfair Labor Practices Act. Last month, a San Francisco judge ruled tentatively that more than 6,000 state employees at the State Compensation Insurance Fund are exempt from the furlough order, and are entitled to back pay for missed days.

The 3,000-member California Association of Professional Scientists, or CAPS, is a party to several court challenges. Nearly a year ago, CAPS sued the administration over the executive order that Gov. Schwarzenegger issued last year that required two furlough days, or about a 10 percent pay cut. A lower court ruled in favor of the administration. CAPS appealed, and the case is pending in the Third District Court of Appeal.

In July, CAPS filed a second lawsuit in San Francisco Superior Court challenging the administration’s addition of a third forced furlough day – a day the governor added by an executive order earlier that month. A trial date is expected to be set by the end of the year.

Recently, the union challenged the administration’s elimination of Columbus Day as a state-paid holiday, contending that the action violated an agreement between the union and the state. The lower courts have ruled in favor of the governor; an appeal is pending.
The 13,000-member Professional Engineers in California Government also has challenged the furloughs, both in court and in the form of grievances filed with the Department of Personnel Administration.

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