Wednesday, May 5, 1999

State’s rejection of
UH faculty contract
blamed on vendetta

By Susan Kreifels


Negotiators for University of Hawaii faculty yesterday accused Gov. Ben Cayetano of union busting and seeking revenge, after the state turned down their proposal for a contract extension with no salary increases for two years.

The current contract expires June 30. Union representatives said the state on Monday turned down the proposal, which they sent April 29 and was meant to give the university time to recover from budget cuts.

T. Anthony Gill, attorney for the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, called the rejection a "union busting move" that will "dramatically restrict collective bargaining."

Gill said government negotiators combed statutes looking for benefits that are or are not defined by law, and then claimed those items can't be negotiated even though they have been included in collective bargaining for decades.

Such benefits include sick leave, per diem, professional leave and sabbaticals, Gill claimed.

But Davis K. Yogi, the state's chief negotiator, said in a news release that claims the government sought to take away those benefits are "absolutely false."

"The Office of Collective Bargaining has raised legitimate issues about provisions in UHPA's collective bargaining agreement that exceed and conflict with law," Yogi said.

Yogi said the Hawaii Supreme Court ruled in 1996 that contracts cannot supersede law. The union, he said, agreed there are conflicts between the contract and the law and that it would seek the help of the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, but to date has not.

Giving an example of the union's position, Gill said sick leave at UH was not permitted by law in the 1960s. When community college staff -- who before were under the Department of Education -- joined the UH system, they brought their sick leave with them. It was then included in collective bargaining for the other faculty members.

Now, Gill said, the government is refusing to negotiate it.

"This is the biggest assault on public collective bargaining since the law created it in 1970," Gill said, predicting government precedents would move to other public union bargaining.

Faculty members saw the rejection as revenge from the Cayetano administration.

"He sees blood in a very primitive way," said Alexander Malahoff, union president. The union supported Cayetano's opponent in the last election, and faculty and students earlier protested Cayetano's budget cuts at UH.

Malahoff said extending the contract was backed by the administration and the UH Board of Regents.

UH President Kenneth Mortimer said he would not comment.

Board of Regents members Ah Quon McElrath and Joseph Blanco, who are members of the state's negotiating team, said regents had supported a contract extension in principle if it would prevent labor disputes during troubled times at UH.

Neither regent wanted to comment on the state's rejection, saying they lacked details. Blanco said the Board of Regents did not vote on the proposal.

"We're trying to find a way to move forward without major labor disputes," he said. The university has suffered significant budget cuts, falling enrollments and low faculty morale.

Contract negotiations started Jan. 22. About two weeks ago an informal proposal on the contract extension was floated to the government, according to J.N. Musto, the union's chief negotiator and executive director. A formal deadline was set for yesterday to accept or reject the proposal.

"It was our intent to do something positive about plummeting faculty morale and assist the university with its financial crisis at the same time," Musto said in a news release. "Unfortunately the governor appears to have a very different vision of the university's problems."

Musto said many faculty members have already left UH for greater opportunities.

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