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Friday, April 14, 2000

Even union
households support
civil service reform

A survey taken in March
shows union members at odds
with their leadership

By Rob Perez


Several key civil service reform proposals before the Legislature continue to receive strong support from Hawaii residents, including among union households and government employees, a new statewide survey shows.

More than 70 percent of the 709 Hawaii respondents said they support merit pay based on job performance instead of seniority, 65 percent favor the counties negotiating their own labor contracts, and 68 percent agree that government retirees should pay a portion of their medical insurance premiums, based on years of service, according to the March telephone survey by OmniTrak Group Inc.

Nearly 70 percent also favored creating early-retirement financial incentives to reduce the government work force, according to the survey, which was sponsored by the Hawaii Business Roundtable and Pacific Resource Partnership, the latter a joint labor-business organization.

The proposal to replace binding arbitration with the right to strike was the only one that did not garner support from the majority of respondents.

Some 43 percent favored letting government workers strike to settle labor disputes, while 37 percent opposed the proposal.

The poll had a margin of error of plus or minus 3.5 percentage points.

While public- and private-sector union leaders have voiced strong opposition to many of the key reform proposals before the Legislature, saying they take away worker rights and benefits, union households supported four of the five proposals mentioned in the survey by even greater margins than the overall population.

Merit pay was the only proposal in which union households were not more supportive. Some 67 percent said they backed performance-based merit pay, compared with 73 percent in the entire survey, according to the OmniTrak numbers. Even a majority of government workers polled said they favored four of the proposals, and close to a majority (48 percent) supported the right to strike.

Rep. Ed Case, House majority leader and a reform proponent, said the survey results essentially mirror the feedback he is getting from constituents in his Manoa district.

Despite what union leaders have been saying, "the rank and file understand the need for basic reform and understand it will benefit the state overall and the government work force specifically," Case said.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association, the largest public-sector union in the state, did not respond to a request for comment.

The survey results were released amid an intensifying union campaign to try to derail or amend the main reform measures heading into legislative conference committees next week. Union-funded television and newspaper ads have been running the past several weeks, and a large union rally is scheduled for Wednesday afternoon at the state Capitol.

The OmniTrak phone polling was completed March 21 -- a few days before the unions began their advertising campaign.

Support for the five proposals has not changed much since the Business Roundtable and Pacific Resource conducted their last survey in December, just before the start of the legislative session. The biggest change was seen for the right-to-strike proposal, which was backed by 43 percent in March, compared with 37 percent in December.

More survey results

Other poll findings:

Bullet 82 percent favor public-school accountability legislation.
Bullet 60 percent are dissatisfied with the Legislature's performance to improve the economy.
Bullet 52 percent are willing to pay higher taxes if that means attracting new businesses to Hawaii.
Bullet 74 percent support a constitutional amendment giving the University of Hawaii autonomy on all matters.

Source: OmniTrak Group Inc.

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