union for DOE
House Republicans split on the measure,
Bills go to conference committees
which Lingle and Hamamoto oppose
By Susan Essoyan
Substitute teachers, facing a new state mandate that will shut a quarter of them out of their jobs, took heart from a bill that cleared the Legislature yesterday giving them the right to organize a union.
"Finally -- great!" said Van Tomokiyo, a fire captain who has been a substitute teacher for 22 years. "There's a long-standing history of substitute teachers being treated badly. At least we'll have a larger voice now."
The state House voted 44-7 in favor of a bill already approved by the Senate that gives substitute teachers their own collective bargaining unit and the right to strike. It applies even to substitutes who work less than half time.
Gov. Linda Lingle's administration opposed the measure, SB 1426, and she has not indicated whether she will sign it, spokesman Russell Pang said yesterday.
All seven representatives who voted against the bill are Republicans, but the other eight House Republicans voted in favor.
Schools Superintendent Patricia Hamamoto testified last week that it would "set a dangerous precedent" to give casual employees who serve on an as-needed basis the same status as regular employees. The administration warned that it would drive up costs.
But on the House floor yesterday, legislators argued that substitutes deserve to be treated equally and have the right to negotiate over wages and working conditions.
Nationwide, an estimated 5 to 10 percent of substitute teachers are unionized.
If the bill is signed into law, substitute teachers can petition the Hawaii Labor Relations Board to hold elections to choose a union. The move should also give them access to the state's list of substitute teachers, said James "Jimmy" Kuroiwa, an organizer with Laborer's International Union, Local 368.
Until now, he and his colleagues have been relying on word of mouth, and roughly 800 people have signed union authorization cards, he said.
They need 30 percent of the state's substitutes to sign up in order to proceed.
"This will make a big difference," he said.
He added that outrage over the Department of Education's decision last month to exclude substitute teachers without college degrees from the classroom has boosted organizing efforts.
The state's pool of substitutes, estimated at 5,000 people, was sliced by 1,450 people as a result of that decision. The move shocked teachers like Janine Tannehill, who substitutes at Hauula Elementary and has been working toward her bachelor's degree.
"I just can't believe this is happening," she said. "I really wish they would reconsider. At least the subs who have proved themselves and been working a long time should be allowed time to finish up their degree."
Rural areas are bracing for shortages. JoAnn Kumusaka, principal of Waianae High School, said that only two of the 25 people on her list of regular substitutes have college degrees, "so you're looking at quite a shortage here."
Although the No Child Left Behind Act is silent on educational requirements for substitute teachers, federal officials recommended that substitutes have the same credentials as regular teachers, according to Greg Knudsen, spokesman for the state Department of Education. The new college-degree requirement is less than what is demanded of regular teachers, he noted.
Shirley Kirsten, president of the National Substitute Teachers Alliance, a nonprofit network, said most states require just a high school diploma.
In Hawaii, substitutes earn $120 a day. The national average is $65, she said.
State Department of Education