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Calif. Supreme Court to decide legality of Schwarzenegger's furloughs

File photo of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a press conference on July 2, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.
File photo of California Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger holding a press conference on July 2, 2009 in Los Angeles, California.
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California's Supreme Court considered the legality of the governor's state workers furloughs today. Last year Governor Schwarzenegger ordered 200,000 state employees to stay home three days a month without pay. State employees say the governor lacks the legal authority to do that.

Schwarzenegger's attorneys told the state's highest court that the governor exercised his rights as the state's top executive when he ordered furloughs to cut costs in a fiscal crisis. But attorneys for state workers argued that he reached beyond those rights. They said the governor can use many other tools - hiring freezes, travel bans and even layoffs - to save money, but not furloughs. The workers’ attorneys said there’s a reason that only the legislature can approve unpaid time off.

" We've had members that have lost cars, lost homes, had to make drastic changes in their financial arrangements. It's upset the entirety of the state work force," said Patrick Whalen, who represents CASE - a union of 3,400 attorneys, administrative law judges and other legal professionals who work for the state.

Whalen told the court that while layoffs may seem more severe than unpaid days off, they differentiate between workers and offer them time to prepare.

"They protect employees based on seniority and they also give a notice provision: a certain time has to elapse before layoffs. The furloughs bypass both of those protections and they apply to everybody across the board."

Attorneys for state workers told the justices that the furloughs violate labor contracts.

The justices have 90 days to decide the matter.