Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Furloughs Unconstitutional

Academic journal article Monthly Labor Review

Furloughs Unconstitutional

Article excerpt

Does a public employer violate the constitutional prohibition against impairing contracts when it mandates unpaid furloughs for employees covered by a collective bargaining agreement? The answer to this question is yes, according to the Massachusetts Supreme Judicial Court's recent ruling that a 1991 furlough of State employees was an unconstitutional interference with collective bargaining agreements. Massachusetts Community College Council v. Commonwealth).(6)

The furlough program applied to all State employees who earned $20,000 or more a year, except judges. Under the plan, employees had to take between 2 and 15 days of unpaid leave, depending on their salaries. Employees had two other options: work without pay and receive bonus vacation days the following year, or work without pay and receive a lump-sum payment upon leaving State employment. Several unions representing State workers challenged the furlough plan, winning a series of arbitration awards that were upheld by a lower Massachusetts court last year. The Commonwealth then appealed to the State Supreme Judicial Court.

Implementation of the furlough plan substantially impaired the rights of the affected employees, in violation of the "contracts clause" of the United States Constitution, wrote Justice Herbert P. …

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