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Unions have scored another victory in their anti-furlough efforts. In a formal ruling Tuesday, a San Francisco Superior Court judge overturned unpaid furlough days that were ordered for more than 6,000 employees of the State Compensation Insurance Fund. The ruling follows similar decisions in Maryland and Hawaii, where courts also recently blocked furloughs of public employees. In the California case, the Service Employees International Union Local 1000, the state’s largest union of public employees, had argued that insurance fund employees were exempt from furloughs under the California Insurance Code. Judge Charlotte Walter Woolard agreed, pointing to a section of the code that exempts the employees from “any hiring freezes and staff cutbacks otherwise required by law.” Because a furlough “reduces the availability of staff and constitutes a staff cutback,” the judge concluded, it is illegal for the insurance fund workers. Woolard declared the past furloughs illegal and blocked any further furloughs. The union is also seeking back pay plus interest for members who lost money as a result of the furloughs, ordered by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger. That issue remains unresolved. SEIU attorney Felix De La Torre said the ruling delivers a strong message. “Furloughs should be used only as a last resort,” he said. “And in California, they’re being misused because it isn’t the last resort. [Schwarzenegger] is furloughing people because he doesn’t want to make other difficult political choices.” Officials with both the governor’s office and the state attorney general’s office were unavailable for comment. The union anticipates an appeal. Tuesday’s ruling comes on the heels of similar decisions in Maryland and Hawaii, albeit on different grounds. On Aug. 18, a federal judge in Maryland struck down a county’s furlough plan, holding it violated the U.S. Constitution by ignoring a union contract. On July 29, a state judge in Hawaii issued a similar ruling, saying a furlough violated the state constitution and criticizing officials for ordering unpaid leave without first negotiating with the unions. In California, SEIU Local 1000 has filed a total of five lawsuits challenging the governor’s furlough orders, including a new one filed on Aug. 28 also in San Francisco Superior Court. That suit alleges the governor violated the state’s Emergency Services Act by illegally using the law as a basis for implementing furloughs. On July 1, Schwarzenegger issued a proclamation that a “state of emergency” existed in California, warranting immediate action, according to the suit. Citing the latest San Francisco ruling, the union suggests it is gaining momentum in its furlough challenges. “This is another crack in the governor’s illegal furlough scheme,” Local 1000 President Yvonne Walker said in a statement. “We will continue our litigation in all possible venues.”

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