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Retirements will press workers already toiling late for free

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City and state managers are bracing for an onslaught of retirements at the end of the fiscal year in June, which will only increase the workload for the employees they leave behind — and exacerbate delays for taxpayers trying to access government services.

Morale is low among government employees who remain on the job after a devastating three years of increased demands for everything from unemployment benefits to welfare payments, according to city, state and union officials.  

The Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii’s largest public workers union, normally sees 1,500 to 1,600 retirements each year, said Randy Perreira, HGEA’s executive director. Last year, there were 2,700 HGEA retirements and this June 30 “we’ll see another decent chunk retiring.”

“For the current generation of government employees, life is certainly more difficult and clearly frustrating because there aren’t enough resources to do the job they’re charged to do,” Perreira said. “They entered public service because they wanted steady employment and they wanted to make a difference on behalf of the public. But this generation of employees is burdened with having to deal with the proverbial ‘do more with less.’”

Alvin Onaka, state registrar of vital statistics, has seen the number of his employees drop by one-third even as they take on more responsibilities to develop a system to register civil unions in the islands.

With marriage, birth and death certificates piling up, Onaka worries about employees who work late into the night without pay to make up for missing co-workers and for days lost from mandatory, unpaid furlough days.

“These are very hard-working state employees,” Onaka said. "Even though we don’t pay them, they work long hours to keep up with today’s work so we can be able to do tomorrow’s work.”

Harry Gima and his wife, Ann, both work for the City and County of Honolulu and were hoping to retire with solid pensions.

Instead, they’re now each earning 9 percent less because of their unpaid furlough days, which will affect the amount of their pensions.

At the age of 57 — after 31 years of government service — Harry Gima said, “although I can retire, I cannot retire.”

So the Gimas recently refinanced their 70-year-old home in Palolo, started over with a new mortgage and now wonder about the lessons they’re teaching their two sons about careers in public service.

Their eldest son, 31, said, “There’s no way I’m going to work for the government,” Harry Gima said. “He can’t believe what we’re making now.”

And their 11-year-old son?

“He says, ‘I’m planning to go to school on the mainland and I’m probably not coming back,’” Harry Gima said. “That’s the way Hawaii is heading.”

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