Apparently feeling the heat from some recent public criticism, Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger on Wednesday took a swipe at unemployment appeals judges, telling them to work “harder and smarter” to eliminate a growing backlog of cases.
“It is outrageous that at a time when the people of California are most in need of their services these judges are hiding behind a provision in a union contract to avoid work,” Schwarzenegger said in a press release. “While everyone else in the state is working smarter and more efficiently, so should this board and its judges instead of looking for ways to not get their work done.”
A powerhouse in a world of wimps, it seems … after the jump.
The board and its 200 administrative law judges are protesting the governor’s three-day-a-month furlough order, arguing that the closures are causing the backlog of unheard claims appeals — now numbering close to 82,000 — to pile up as the ranks of California’s unemployed swell. Also, the judges say, the furloughs aren’t saving the state’s general fund any money since the ALJs’ salaries are paid by federal funds.
The state is already under federal scrutiny for its slow rate of processing claims. “States do not save money by furloughing employees from federally funded positions, and these actions can lead to serious consequences for laid-off workers.” U.S. Labor Secretary Hilda Solis said in an interview with the Los Angeles Times this week.
Schwarzenegger responded by blaming unemployment judges and their labor contract, which caps the number of cases a senior ALJ can hear each week at 30. The governor called on judges to dump the cap. But he did not mention that the cap was instituted as part of a legal settlement that his administration negotiated with the ALJs’ union in 2006.
Many judges already hear more cases than the cap allows, said Patrick Whalen, general counsel for the union representing the unemployment judges.
“The governor doesn’t seem to understand that our judges are required to give due process to the people who appear before them,” Whalen said. “I don’t think he appreciates that the judges’ goal is to deliver justice speedily but without trampling on the rights of the people before them.”
— Cheryl Miller
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