Sunday, April 11, 2004

Kauai mayor opposes
arbitrated HGEA raises

The union leader says that Mayor
Baptiste is under Lingle's control

Kauai County Mayor Bryan Baptiste has joined Honolulu Mayor Jeremy Harris in opposing the arbitrated pay increase for about 25,000 unionized state and county white-collar workers.

Both, though, stopped short of urging their respective county and city councils to reject the raises for members of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

Meanwhile, Gov. Linda Lingle -- who has recommended that the Legislature reject the award -- wrote an open letter to workers explaining her position.

In a letter to the Kauai County Council, Baptiste wrote, "I cannot ... endorse an award derived through a process which clearly removed decision making and fiscal management control from the hands of those the electorate entrusted with those powers." The letter was dated Thursday and released to the media yesterday.

The arbitration decision, said Baptiste, "does not consider whether the increases are reasonable considering the impact on taxpayers and public services ... (and) will affect the county and its ability to meet the island's future needs and employ sufficient fiscal control over operating expenses."

Randy Perreira, HGEA deputy executive director, said he wasn't surprised at Baptiste's stand.

The governor and Baptiste, both Republicans, are "very close," he said, adding that Lingle supported Baptiste's candidacy.

"It seems clear that he's not thinking on his own," Perreira said. "The argument he made could have been written by anybody on the fifth (executive) floor of the Capitol."

In her letter to HGEA members, Lingle wrote, "My action does not mean I have any less respect or appreciation for state employees. Instead, it reflects the economic reality we must face for the greater good of our people.

"Just as your families cannot spend more than they have, the state simply cannot continue to operate beyond its means."

Under the contract reached by a three-person arbitration panel, HGEA workers would see raises of about 5 to 8 percent.

Perreira said the union is pursuing whether the governor's call for rejection of the contract is permissible under Hawaii's labor laws.

In his letter, Baptiste estimated that the HGEA contract would cost Kauai County $990,202 in fiscal year 2005.

"Our public demands greater fiscal responsibility and it is our intent to answer that call," Baptiste wrote. "I do not believe that the process that produced this decision and award supports our efforts."

Only Hawaii County Mayor Harry Kim has said he would not oppose the arbitrator's award. Before the arbitration decision was released, Kim had already proposed a $247 million budget for 2004-05.

Maui County Mayor Alan Arakawa's office has not commented on the package, and he could not be reached yesterday. Perreira, though, said Arakawa agreed before the panel's decision was made that he would "honor the result of arbitration."


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