Governor needs strategies she can count on in talks


POSTED: Wednesday, July 08, 2009

Hawaii's four public worker labor unions may insist they are united, but instead we are witnessing the Balkanization of local labor-management relations.

As much as Hawaii loves to embrace the centralized solution to everything from schools to taxes, the state is now watching labor relations divided up into small ineffective units. It started with Gov. Linda Lingle's failure to bring a united management team to the bargaining table. Labor talks stalled and the parties broke like pool balls at the break.

Agreement on a contract is reached when the governor, the county mayors, the University of Hawaii president, the Board of Regents, the superintendent of education and the school board agree. With workers covered by the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers, the governor has six votes, the counties one vote each—but agreement can't be reached without at least one mayor. For the teachers and university professors, the governor also has to get at least one vote from the school board or education chief executive.

Never before has a governor gone into negotiations without at least one mayor, one superintendent of education or one UH president already in the pocket.

I asked several former insiders from previous administrations and they were just incredulous that a governor would even start bargaining without knowing that she had the management votes already tucked away.

This year Lingle completely failed to get those votes. Either she tried and was blocked or she glossed over it or just didn't think it was important. When asked about it early in the negotiations, Lingle airily dismissed the importance, saying that if the offer was to the unions' liking, they would get a mayor or other official to come along.

There must be some parallel universe where management expects labor to tie up the bargaining and nail down the management votes. But today in Hawaii, Lingle can't get agreement either from the unions or the other members of the management team.

So Monday, the HGEA's Randy Perreira could say the unions made a lot of progress talking to the UH, the mayors and the DOE. In the end, they didn't make any progress because they didn't get the governor. All the counties, all the regents and the superintendent of education and UH president can all agree, but the state will not have a new labor pact until the governor signs on.

The question now is who will lead the state's leader back to the bargaining table.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Wednesday. Reach him at .(JavaScript must be enabled to view this email address).