Court also rules workers cannot be forced to work without pay
(HARRISBURG) – Senate Appropriations Committee Chairman Jake Corman (R-34) said he is pleased by a Pennsylvania Supreme Court opinion earlier this week which found that Governor Ed Rendell is not required by law to institute furloughs or “payless paydays” in the event of a budget impasse.
In that opinion, 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.”
Corman has said repeatedly that state workers should be paid during any state budget impasse and that they should not be used as pawns to try to force action on budget items that the governor supports.
“This decision makes it clear that if the Governor chooses to furlough employees during a budget stalemate, he does it solely by his own choice, and not because of state or federal law or Constitutional requirements,” Corman said. “The Supreme Court also found that workers must be paid, even if a budget is not passed by July 1. I am glad that this practice has been found to be illegal, and workers and their families will now have assurances that they won’t be used by used to gain political leverage.”
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.
Senate Republicans submitted a “friend of the court brief” with the Supreme Court supportive of the unions’ legal arguments.
Corman added that the Supreme Court 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.
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