HGEA sues to void
book-buyer contract

The union says that job has long
been handled by Hawaii civil servants

By Star Bulletin staff

The Hawaii Government Employees Association has joined the legal battle over privatization, asking that the state's book-buying contract with Baker & Taylor be declared invalid.

In a class-action lawsuit filed in Circuit Court, the union said the company is performing a function that long has been done by civil servants -- and not doing it very well, creating a system "which is neither responsive to the needs and wants of library patrons, nor in the public interest."

Among the consequences are substantial morale problems among workers in the state's 49 public libraries and interference with a merit system of hiring, according to the suit filed yesterday by attorney Herbert Takahashi.

A union official said much-publicized criticism of Baker & Taylor's five-year, $11.2 million contract is one reason the HGEA chose the issue for its initial court foray over privatization.

Field services officer Randy Perreira said the union has been examining state and county contracts that might affect its bargaining-unit employees, and speculated other suits "quite possibly" may follow.

The lawsuit comes after the state Supreme Court this year, responding to a United Public Workers complaint, voided a contract to operate a Big Island landfill.

The high court ruled that the state Constitution and civil service laws prevent privatizing services that have been done "customarily and historically" by public workers.

Government officials, including the four county mayors, have since been grappling to understand the ramifications of the ruling.

Named as defendants in the HGEA action are the state library system, the Board of Education, state Librarian Bart Kane, Baker & Taylor, and subcontractor Booklines Hawaii, Inc.

The suit was filed while the board is expecting to receive findings of a blue-ribbon panel which has recommended the contract be terminated by June 30.

"It looks like the lawsuit and blue-ribbon panel are both heading in the same direction," said board Chair Karen Knudsen.

Board members are expected to make a decision when the findings are formally presented June 19, and the case may become moot if they decide to end the contract, she said.

John Penebacker, special assistant to Kane, said he had not seen the suit and declined comment.

The union wants book selection, buying and processing to return in phases to public employees.

It says Baker & Taylor should not be given damages if the contract is scrapped, and that the defendants should be required to repay to the public all money spent on the "illegal contract."

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