Follow HSTA's lead


POSTED: Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Tentative approval of a labor contract between the state and Hawaii's 13,000 public school teachers is a positive sign that state employees recognize the need for wage reductions to balance the budget during the present recession. Other public employee unions should accept the necessity of taking days off without pay rather than layoffs.

Gov. Linda Lingle said her office is reviewing the preliminary settlement between the Hawaii State Teachers Association and state negotiators, including two representing the Board of Education, one named by the schools superintendent and three chosen by Lingle. The governor alone lacks the authority to accept the agreement but can block it by having her representatives reject a majority.

Teachers across the country have accepted school districts' imposition of furloughs to avoid or limit layoffs. Hawaii is the nation's only statewide school district, so would be the only state to do so.

The teachers' union acted responsibly by seeking an agreement through negotiation instead of binding arbitration, the choice of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, representing state white-collar employees.

A California arbitrator has been chosen to decide on a state contract with HGEA by December. The Lingle administration initially proposed three furloughed days a month over the next two years while HGEA said it would accept only one a month.

The logical compromise would have been two furloughed days a month, which Lingle offered, while the union has agreed to 30 furloughed days over the two-year period. The blue-collar United Public Workers union has made a similar offer.

If the arbitrator of the HGEA talks follows predecessors, he will decide down the middle of the most recent proposals, which will require layoffs in order to balance the budget. That would be unfortunate.

Hawaii is the only state where a judge has ruled that the governor lacks the authority to order furloughs. The Service Employees International Union, which represents 95,000 California state employees, has challenged Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger's decision to close down the government three Fridays a month, amounting to a 15 percent reduction in wages. Furloughs have been ordered in at least 19 states.

Nine hundred non-union Hawaii state employees have begun taking three furloughed days a month without pay. More than 1,000 state civil servants, including 666 from the Human Services and Health departments, are scheduled to lose their jobs in November if the unions have not agreed to contracts by then.

“;Furloughs have always been my first choice to achieve significant labor cost reductions needed to address the unprecedented budget shortfall the state is facing,”; Lingle has said.

That, rather than layoffs, should be the preference of the unions as well.