Saturday, July 21, 2001

Teachers angry at
state over bonuses

The state negotiator wants the
issue taken off the table for now

By Crystal Kua

The state is exploring ways to carry out the recently negotiated teachers contract without a disputed section about bonuses, the state's chief negotiator said yesterday.

"I think we're both trying to see how we can cut this issue out and implement everything else," Davis Yogi said during a meeting with Star-Bulletin writers.

Public school teachers went on strike April 5 for about three weeks.

At issue is whether negotiated 3 percent bonuses for teachers with master's degrees and professional diplomas should be paid during each of the remaining two years of the four-year contract.

Yogi said the state's understanding of the agreement is the bonuses were one-time, paid only in the first year of the remaining two years of the contract, at a cost of $6 million.

Union leaders, however, point to the language in the negotiated contract that says that the bonuses are to be paid in each of the last two years.

"We believe the language is clear," said Joan Husted, chief negotiator for the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Yogi said that if separated, the controversial section could be ironed out later, and teachers could get their pay raises, which total 16 percent over two years.

"I don't know if it's different from the governor's position," he said. "Sometimes he takes a public position, I look for solutions and make recommendations. We are looking for ways to resolve this and not take the attitude that our position is the only position and then head for showdown."

Husted said about half of the membership wants to salvage the remainder of the contract and work to resolve the disputed section later, while the others do not want to go to work when the first wave of schools start next week.

"I'm advised by legal counsel if there is no meeting of the minds on a significant part of the contract, you have no contract, so I have to find out how to make this part not part of the contract," Yogi said.

Husted said she has already made a proposal to do just that, but it was rejected.

Yogi said he does not want the issue to be separated only to have the union bring the matter to court at a later date if there is no resolution.

Yogi said that what was written down as the final contract language did not accurately reflect what was agreed upon during negotiations.

"We think there's a mistake in the language," Yogi said.

To prove his point and to counter allegations that the state is reneging on the deal, Yogi brought with him documents that he said chronicled the understanding reached in the final days of negotiations that the bonuses were a one-time payment.

"This is (HSTA's) informal proposal. It's an off-the-record thing that we're not supposed to even share, but this thing has gone too far in terms of the allegations to who's reneging, who's lying," Yogi said. "This is really getting out of control."

Yogi showed informal proposals presented by both the union and the state.

The state's proposal showed a $6 million figure for the bonuses as part of the cost of the entire two-year wage.

Yogi also passed out a sheet he said was handed out to HSTA members during the ratification meeting. The flier also lists the total cost of the bonuses, he said.

The controversy over these differential bonuses has held up the signing of the contract.

As a result, teachers did not receive retention bonuses as promised earlier this month, and their pay raises could also be held up if the dispute continues.

Yogi said that to help resolve the issue, the state is willing to expand the criteria on who can qualify for the bonuses.

State Department of Education Personnel Director Sandra McFarlane said her staff is still reviewing the records to see which teachers might qualify for the bonus.

That figure could end up being anywhere from 6,900 to 7,500 teachers at a cost of about $9 million to $10 million for one year.

Husted said the state had the opportunity the night the agreement was reached to flag any faulty language in the contract.

"We went over the language page by page," she said.

Yogi said there were many pressures to settle, including the strike itself and the threat by U.S. District Judge David Ezra to intervene if there was no agreement reached.

Husted also said that the $6 million figure was the state's figure, not the union's, because the union had no idea what the final cost of the bonuses would be because it does not have access to the personnel records, only the state.

"There's no way to determine the cost of the items," he said.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin