Judge blocks Schwarzenegger from implementing furloughs

Roughly 150,000 state workers could avoid unpaid furlough days set to begin Friday after an Alameda County Superior Court judge issued a temporary restraining order on Monday blocking Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger from forcing the mandatory time off.

Schwarzenegger ordered the furloughs in late July, four weeks after the fiscal year began with no state budget in place. The governor said the move was necessary to conserve cash, at least until state legislators approve a spending plan.

The governor’s office said it would immediately appeal Monday’s ruling.

Schwarzenegger previously ordered workers take unpaid furloughs to save cash-strapped California money from February 2009 through June 2010.

Several unions sued to block the latest round of three monthly furloughs days, which are roughly the equivalent of a 14% pay cut. Judge Steven A. Brick sided with those unions Monday, ruling that “the balance of hardships tips in favor” of the workers, who face “great or irreparable harm.”

“Homes have been lost or are at risk of being lost because of inability to keep current on mortgages,” Brick wrote.

The Schwarzenegger administration will appeal the ruling as early as Tuesday, said spokesman Aaron McLear.

“The governor has the authority to implement furloughs, and we will file an emergency motion with the appellate court to allow the furloughs to go forward Friday,” McLear said.

Challenges to the governor’s authority to order the previous furloughs are winding their way through California’s court system, with the state’s Supreme Court set to consider the issue in September.