Furlough Standoff: Unions vs. Corzine

Lots of arguing, but no decision.

The fight over forced furloughs went to court in New Jersey on Thursday. The arguing went on for hours and then everyone went home without knowing what will happen next.

The fight is between the state's 200,000 union workers and Governor Jon Corzine.

Three hours of aguing in an appeals court boiled down to two key questions: Is the state really broke enough that workers should suffer so much, financially? Does the government even have the authority to do this?

Corzine's budget calls for workers to take two days of unpaid leave -- one in May and another in June -- and 12 additional days of unpaid leave during the next fiscal year, which starts in July. Workers are also being asked to give up the 3.5 percent salary increase they're supposed to get July 1.

"Here in New Jersey, we have an imminent danger of being unable to balance the . . . budget appropriately if we do not take appropriate and necessary actions," he told the Philadelphia Inquirer.

The state's treasury says the two day furloughs this spring would save the state close to $25 million; the unions say it will save only about $8 million.

The Governor says without these sacrifices, the state will be forced to lay off up to 7,000 workers.

New Jersey's Civil Service Commission gave the Governor, county and municipal leaders the authority last month to temporarily lay off workers when it declared the state in "imminent peril" economically.

Lawyers for six New Jersey public worker unions want the appeals court to put a stop to that emergency rule until the questions of authority and financial need can be investigated.

"The state of New Jersey is using a false claim of 'imminent peril' to justify dismantling people's layoff rights under the statute and their contractual rights," said Hetty Rosenstein, state director of Communications Workers of America, the largest state worker union with 60,000 members statewide.

Assistant Attorney General Robert Gilson said the state is in the midst of the deepest financial crisis since the Great Depression, tax collections are down nearly $3 billion and an economic emergency has clearly been demonstrated.

The three-judge panel recessed for the day without ruling and did not say when to expect a decision.

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