Saturday, April 26, 2003

3 state unions
extend pacts

They will get more funds for
health insurance because there
is no money for pay increases

Three major state employee unions, including public school teachers, agreed yesterday to extend their contracts without pay raises in exchange for more money from the state for health insurance.

Gov. Linda Lingle announced the deals just hours before a legislative deadline to submit cost items for the 2003-2005 state budget.

"It's hard to be in negotiations when you have no money to offer for salary increases," Lingle said. "The extensions give us time and give the unions time to monitor and watch the economy and the revenues to the state."

The agreements were reached with the Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii State Teachers Association and United Public Workers, which represent about 50,000 workers.

Union members were motivated to reach a deal because they faced steep increases in health insurance premiums or possibly even losing coverage when the new Hawaii Employer-Union Trust Fund begins on July 1 if the funds were not included in the state budget.

"Nobody wanted to see teachers go either without health care or have to pay the full premium," said HSTA spokeswoman Danielle Lum.

The teachers union agreed to a one-year contract extension, through June 30, 2004, without the right to strike. The UPW extension is for two years, also with no strike allowed.

HGEA agreed to a one-year extension but retained the right to strike with 30 days' written notice, said Ted Hong, the state's chief negotiator.

"We will take full advantage of this extension to continue negotiating for a fair settlement," said Russell Okata, HGEA executive director.

Because it is a contract extension, the HGEA agreement does not require ratification by members. HSTA officials are consulting union lawyers to see if the teachers' deal needs to be ratified, Lum said. UPW officials could not be reached for comment.

Although premiums will be higher under the new Employer-Union Trust Fund, the state agreed to continue covering 60 percent of medical benefits premiums for HGEA and UPW members, and to increase its share to 66 percent for HSTA members, according to Hong.

The agreement with the three unions represents an increase of roughly $60 million in costs to the state over the next two years, roughly 11 percent more than it had been paying in medical insurance premiums, Hong said.

"Although there's been a zero increase in wages, the cost to the taxpayer has gone up substantially because we continue to pay at the 60 percent level and still pay 100 percent of the cost for retirees," Lingle said.

The governor agreed to a higher percentage for the teachers union because HSTA members faced the steepest increases in health-care premiums in shifting from their old health plan to the new one.

"They're getting a little extra as a matter of parity to put them on the same level as other bargaining units," Hong said. "She wanted to make sure the teachers wouldn't be penalized."

The change means the state will pay roughly $30 more a month for a teacher on a family plan, and $10 more for a single, than it would have at the 60 percent level, he said. A teacher on a family plan who faced a $64 increase in switching health funds now faces a $34 increase, Lum said.

"This takes the sting out a little bit," she said. "They've pretty much split the difference, for which I think teachers will be grateful."

For HGEA members, the employer contribution will be roughly $55 more a month for the family plan than the state had been paying, Okata said.

The HGEA agreement covers 25,000 members in Units 2, 3, 4, 6, 8 and 13, including white-collar employees, professional/scientific personnel, supervisory blue-collar employees, principals and educational officers. HSTA represents 13,000 public school teachers. The United Public Workers represents 12,000 nonsupervisory, blue-collar employees.

Lingle expressed her appreciation for the "respectful, professional" way the unions and the state dealt with each other. "It had always seemed to me there was unnecessary rancor" in previous negotiations, she said.

State of Hawaii

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