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View Point

By Randy Kusaka

Friday, March 9, 2001

HGEA pay raise
is affordable

AFFORDABILITY is often used to divert attention away from what is fair, right and just. That reason is given for rejecting an arbitration award for the Hawaii Government Employees Association in its contract negotiations with the state.

The Star-Bulletin's Feb. 9 editorial, "Legislature should limit state pay raises," declared that legislators should focus "less on the legality of the (HGEA arbitration) award than on its affordability."

It is a shameful act when a newspaper asks 75 elected lawmakers to break their oath to uphold the law.

As Supreme Court Justice Louis D. Brandeis warned: "If a government becomes a lawbreaker, it breeds contempt for the law; it invites every man to become a law unto himself."

It is possible to conclude, based on its advancement of "affordability," your paper likely would have argued that government cannot afford to integrate public schools, safeguard consumer health, protect our environment or eliminate child labor.

In fact, the independent arbitration panel addressed the "affordability" of the HGEA award. Arbitrator Anthony Sinicropi, the panel's neutral chairperson, went to the heart of the decision when he wrote, "Essentially, the employer has argued an unwillingness to pay rather than an inability to pay."

He added, "The employer never argued it could not pay any of the increase, but has asserted that it is unwilling to pay any increases whatsoever, suggesting but not proving that the public good would be sacrificed. Innuendo and suggestion is not sufficient to be persuasive on this point. Proof is what is required."

Also in the editorial, by applauding Sen. Sam Slom's lone committee vote against funding the award, the Star-Bulletin dishonored itself before the great majority of the 75 lawmakers for whom a promise made is a promise to be kept.

Slom needed only 16 days to betray his opening day remarks to the Senate: "If a lawmaker, a legislative body, a cabinet official or a governor makes a promise to teachers, native Hawaiians, union members, environmentalists, small business or special education children and their parents, we must keep our promises to each and every one." Slom deserves the contempt of the people of Hawaii and his colleagues, both Republican and Democrat, in the Legislature.

By parroting the governor's false claim that the 2000 Legislature rejected the award, the Star-Bulletin continues to ignore its duty to pursue truth. I cite the governor's three-paragraph letter of April 28, 2000, to the Senate and the House.

The first paragraph explained that on April 19, 2000, the arbitration panel issued its arbitrated agreement for the HGEA bargaining units. The governor attached a copy of the award.

The entire second paragraph stated: "The arbitration panel awarded the HGEA a four-year contract, effective July 1, 1999 to June 30, 2003. The panel did not award any wage increase for any of the above HGEA bargaining units for FY 2000 and 2001. As a result, the administration makes no request for appropriations."

The third paragraph explained "the only cost item pending before the current Legislature" is the employers' contribution to the Health Fund and it is not part of the arbitration award. He wrote that the increase in the employers' contribution was already in the administration's budget submittal.

The rest of the letter was an outline of the award's cost.

The governor made no request for appropriations. The only cost item before the Legislature was the Health Fund contribution, which the Legislature funded.

IT is clear that the Legislature took no action because there was no appropriation request and no cost item to act upon. No matter how the governor tries to twist the facts, the truth is the Legislature did not reject the award. It is appropriate and legal for the current Legislature to fund the final and binding award.

Has the Star-Bulletin so quickly forgotten what all the fuss by the Gannett Co. was about? Gannett asked the people of Hawaii to focus less on the legality than on the affordability of financing two dailies.

People were not fooled and, united by the principle that a deal is a deal, rallied to save the Star-Bulletin. People felt that Gannett had a moral and ethical obligation that arose from its legal responsibility to keep its promise.

The Star-Bulletin should be ashamed that it is oblivious to the identical principal and promise of the arbitration award.

Randy Kusaka is public information officer for the
Hawaii Government Employees Association.

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