Court Says Furlough Violated Employees' Rights

August 28, 2009 ( - The U.S. District Court for the District of Maryland has determined that a furlough plan instituted by Prince George's County in Maryland violated employees' rights under the U.S. Constitution's Contract Clause.

Several unions, in their complaint, contended that the provisions of the collective bargaining agreements (CBAs) that set the wages and hours for employees preempt any contrary provision from being enacted and made the furlough plan inactive.   The court agreed with the unions that the CBAs give employees a solid expectation of the money they will earn for the year, and the employee relies on this.

The court also pointed out that the county had other options for correcting its budget problems, such as tapping approximately $97 million in unrestricted reserve funds.   “Although the county suggests to the court that it faced dire circumstances and had no other reasonable alternatives, the record suggests otherwise and the county’s own actions resemble trappings of doing that which was ‘politically expedient,'” the opinion said.

According to the opinion, in response to questions from rating agencies about its ability to maintain its reserves, the county unequivocally told the rating agencies, that it was “willing to take strong action to reduce expenditures . . . includ[ing] things like furloughs.” The county told the rating agencies that it “[was] going to keep [its] budget in balance.” After the assurances, Standard & Poor’s issued a AAA bond rating for the County.

Soon after, the county asked the unions to agree to give up cost of living adjustments called for in their CBAs, and when the unions refused, the county presented its furlough plan, which affected approximately 5,900 employees. The plan called for 80-hour unpaid furloughs for all employees, effectively cutting the annual salaries of all covered employees by 3.85%, the opinion said.

Various Prince George’s County unions, including the Fraternal Order of Police Lodge No. 89 and the International Fire Fighters Association Prince George’s County Local 1619, Inc., as well as the American Federation of State and Municipal Employees (AFSCME), AFL-CIO, and five affiliated AFSCME local Unions filed an action against Prince George’s County for declaratory, injunctive, and monetary relief as a result of the adoption and implementation of the Employee Furlough Plan.

The opinion in Fraternal Order of Police, et al. v. Prince George’s County, Maryland, is here .