FRANKFORT — Franklin Circuit Judge Phillip Shepherd denied a request by six state workers and their labor group Thursday to block temporarily Gov. Steve Beshear's planned six-day unpaid furlough of most executive branch employees.
The first furlough day will be Friday.
Beshear has said that furloughs are needed to cut about $24 million from the state's $131 million budget deficit and that without furloughs he would have to fire more than 400 employees.
State workers, represented by the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees District Council 62, argue that many state agencies are dangerously understaffed, which furloughs would aggravate. Also, they say, the loss of pay would hurt them financially.
Beshear spokeswoman Kerri Richardson said in a statement that the administration "appreciates the court's attention to this issue and will continue our planned furlough action."
"These are extraordinary economic times, and we are forced to implement appropriate budget-balancing cost-savings efforts."
Meanwhile, David Warrick, executive director of AFSCME Council 62, which represents about 9,000 state workers, said he is disappointed that the judge did not temporarily stay the furloughs but is glad Shepherd did not dismiss the lawsuit and has called for additional information.
"Regrettably, it was only after our union filed for an injunction to stop these furloughs that the state recognized last week that Kentucky can ill afford to understaff 24-hour prison and mental health facilities, reversing itself on furloughs in those institutions," Warrick said.
"However, the state has failed to apply the same reasoning to juvenile corrections facilities or to recognize the extraordinary impact furloughs have on social service workers who often are the final life and death line of defense for families and children on the brink of disaster or harm."
In July, the Beshear administration outlined a plan to include three common days during which state offices will be closed. The days are next to existing state holiday weekends: Friday, Sept. 3; Friday, Nov. 12; and Friday, May 27.
In addition, employees will be furloughed for one day in each of the months of October, March and April.
This year's state legislature gave Beshear the authority to implement furloughs.
In his six-page order, Shepherd said the plaintiffs "have not pointed to any statute or regulation that has been violated in the promulgation of the layoff plan, which has been duly adopted as an administrative regulation."
He also said the plaintiffs have not shown that the furlough plan violates any constitutional rights.
Shepherd allowed the plaintiffs to amend their original complaint to add more parties and to show that the Beshear administration has granted some exemptions from furloughs.
The judge ruled against the administration's motion to dismiss the lawsuit and set a timetable for further legal action that runs through Nov. 15.