Friday, January 9, 2004

State and unions
bargaining from afar

HGEA's director says
arbitration is inevitable

Negotiators for the state and its public worker unions are at the bargaining table with a goal of finishing various contract talks by mid-April, but their wage offers remain far apart.

Negotiators are working on proposed two-year contracts for all unions that would run from July 1, 2003, through June 30, 2005. Last year, when the state said there was no money available, the unions agreed to extend their contracts and hold bargaining talks with the state.

Agreeing to new contracts by early spring would give the Legislature time to approve the contracts in May and allow pay increases to start.

The state has offered the University Hawaii Professional Assembly a 2 percent raise in the second year of a two-year contract, while the union is asking for a retroactive 6 percent increase, plus an additional 8 percent increase for the second year. The union has also asked for additional increases for full professors and lecturers.

UHPA estimates that the combined annual salaries for professors at all the state colleges and universities is $170 million. They are asking for increases that would add $30 million immediately and then $6 million a year.

There have also been informal discussions about increasing the contract to six from two years with larger increases for the six-year period, but the offers are still significantly different.

For the state's largest union, the 40,000-member Hawaii Government Employees Association, the sides are even further apart.

The union reports on its Internet site that it is proposing a 4 percent across-the-board wage increase for each year of the two-year contract, plus step movements for those entitled.

The union says the state has offered only 1 percent.

Negotiations with each union are being handled separately, according to Ted Hong, the state's chief negotiator.

He said Gov. Linda Lingle has rejected the practice of previous governors to fashion a wage settlement that gave all public workers about the same raise.

"In the past, what has been awarded to one bargaining unit was automatically the framework for every other bargaining unit," Hong said. "The governor said that will not happen."

Lingle wants to give the largest increases to the so-called "first responders" such as police, firefighters and public health workers.

Educators would get the second-largest amount, and other public workers would get the remaining increases.

But, Hong said, the state has promised the unions that it will wrap up negotiations in time for the wage packages to be approved by this session of the Legislature, which means they must be included in the state budget by mid-April.

"We made a commitment that everything gets down to this Legislature," Hong said.

While UHPA essentially wrapped up its labor contract during talks last year, it still has to settle on wages. If it does not, the union could be allowed to strike.

HGEA, however, lobbied through a change in the state law that forces the state and HGEA to go into binding arbitration if a settlement cannot be reached.

Randy Perreira, HGEA's deputy executive director, said, "At this point, arbitration is inevitable."

Hong said he expects to negotiate for a settlement with HGEA at the same time that the arbitration starts on Monday.

The United Public Workers, the state and county blue-collar union, told the state that it would negotiate for the same wage package that was awarded to HGEA through arbitration, Hong said.

According to state law, the arbitration panel will return with a decision in March, and the recommended increases would go to the Legislature for approval.

The remaining union, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, has said it would not talk about wages until the March Council of Revenues meeting. It is expected that in March the council will meet and increase the state's total revenue estimates.

HSTA is not covered by arbitration and has the right to strike if it cannot reach agreement with the state.

The State of Hawaii Association of Police Officers recently won an arbitrated salary award of 8 percent over two years.


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