Supreme Court Affirms Senators’ Position in Employee Furlough Case

Court also rules workers cannot be forced to work without pay

(HARRISBURG) — State Senators John R. Gordner (R-27), Jeffrey E. Piccola (R-15), and Jane Earll (R-49) welcomed the Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion yesterday which concluded that Governor Ed Rendell is not required by law to institute furloughs or “payless paydays” in the event of a budget impasse. Chief Justice Ronald Castille, writing for the 6-1 majority, concluded “that (Article III) Section 24 (of the Pennsylvania Constitution) did not prohibit the Commonwealth from continuing to employ and pay all FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act) nonexempt Commonwealth employees in the event that the Pennsylvania General Assembly failed to pass a budget by July 1.”

“I see this decision as vindication for the thousands of state workers who were used as ‘pawns’ by Governor Rendell during the budget process,” Sen. Gordner remarked. “The Supreme Court made it clear that any decision to furlough is solely at the discretion of the Governor and is not required by the Pennsylvania Constitution or any other state or federal law. Further, the Court concluded that the law requires timely payment of wages, regardless of the status of the budget on July 1st.”

Council 13 AFSCME, SEIU and FOSCEP filed the lawsuit in June 2008 on behalf of state workers represented by the unions to determine whether the Governor had any basis in law to mandate a furlough of state workers in the event of a budget impasse. Beginning in 2007, Governor Rendell had consistently argued that he was required by the state Constitution and the FLSA to furlough “noncritical” state employees, leading to a one-day furlough in 2007 and a threat to do the same in 2008.

Following a July 2008 single-judge ruling of the Commonwealth Court, the unions appealed to the Supreme Court arguing that the Governor was not legally obligated to furlough state employees in the event of a budget impasse. Citing the Commonwealth Court’s decision, Governor Rendell abandoned the furlough scheme in 2009 and instead instituted “payless paydays” during the budget impasse, which the unions argued was a violation of the FLSA. Sens. Gordner, Piccola and Earll submitted a “friend of the court brief” with the Supreme Court supportive of the unions’ legal arguments.

“The Supreme Court squarely addressed the Governor’s legal obligations in regard to state employees during a budget impasse,” Sen. Earll said, “and the Court rightly concluded that the Governor is not required to furlough employees during an impasse and that he is required to pay workers for services rendered in a timely manner as mandated by the FLSA.”

The U.S. Secretary of Labor has the authority under the FLSA to file a lawsuit on behalf of state workers to recover wages and liquidated damages equal to two times the wages of the employees if the Commonwealth violates the Act. The Obama Administration initiated an investigation of the state during the period of “payless paydays” in July-August, but declined to pursue the investigation or to seek double damages when the employees were paid after the enactment of a “bridge budget” on August 5, 2009.

“The Governor has used furloughs and more recently ‘payless paydays’ as tools for leverage during budget negotiations to strong-arm the General Assembly into agreeing with unrelated legislative proposals or significant tax increases,” Sen. Piccola stated. “It is my hope that this decision will put an end to governance by extortion.”

 

Contacts:

Joshua Funk (Senator Gordner)
(717) 787-8928
Kirsten Kenyon (Senator Piccola)
(717) 787-6801
Jason Brehouse (Senator Earll)
(717) 787-8927