Pa. unions sue to block budget furloughs

June 19, 2008 12:35:34 PM PDT
Three labor unions that represent state government employees sued Thursday to block furloughs that have been threatened if state budget negotiations stall. Gov. Ed Rendell has said that, if no budget is passed, as many as 25,000 workers in positions deemed not to be critical to the public's health, safety or welfare must be furloughed without pay after the current fiscal year ends at midnight June 30.

The unions' Commonwealth Court lawsuit argues that nothing in state law, federal law or the Pennsylvania Constitution "permits such a distinction between 'critical' and 'noncritical' employees with respect to furloughs."

Rendell plans to continue to pay workers in "critical" positions - such as state troopers and prison guards - after the budget year is over. But about 25,000 workers are not in that category and risk being sent home without pay.

Rendell has cited the federal Fair Labor Standards Act's requirement that workers be paid as part of the justification for furloughs. The lawsuit asks the state court to take up the matter on an expedited basis.

"It's to answer the question: Is he correct in going behind the Fair Labor Standards Act to say that he has to furlough people without a budget?" said David R. Fillman, executive director of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 13.

The other unions that sued are the Pennsylvania Social Services Union Local 688 and the Federation of State Cultural and Educational Professionals Local 2382. Together the three organizations claim about 17,000 of the targeted workers.

The defendants are the state, Rendell, Rendell's secretary of administration, his budget secretary and state Treasurer Robin L.


Chuck Ardo, a spokesman for Rendell, said the administration was hopeful a budget deal would be struck in time to make the lawsuit moot.

"We recognize the union's need to do what it believes is best for its members, but the governor has an obligation to uphold the (state) constitution," Ardo said.

A one-day furlough occurred last July 9 as budget talks between the administration and Legislature failed to produce a deal on time. Those furloughed workers were later paid for their day off.

Rendell and the Legislature are trying to hammer out a $28 billion-plus spending plan for next year, along with unresolved disputes over policies on energy, health care, economic development and infrastructure investment.