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Thursday, March 2, 2000

Gov. Ben Cayetano wants to radically reform collective-bargaining and civil-service laws to make public workers more efficient and accountable to taxpayers. But unions, saying that "an injury to one is an injury to all," are up in arms. They're closing ranks, banding together to fight what they fear is a ...


Cayetano’s original
goals watered down
in draft reform bill

The unions oppose some of
the provisions, but many
key ones that they objected
to have been deleted

Unions lobby against reform measures

By Rob Perez

Legislature 2000 Gov. Ben Cayetano's proposal to overhaul the state's civil-service and collective-bargaining systems appears to be in serious trouble in the Senate, where a substantially watered-down version is scheduled to be heard by two key committees this afternoon.

Two House committees also are expected to consider their own version of Cayetano's reform plan today, but it was not clear last night what revisions House members were contemplating.

The governor's plan to radically change Hawaii's public employment system to make it more efficient has met intense opposition from labor unions.

For bills to stay alive, they must get committee approvals by tomorrow night and be positioned for floor votes next week.

Sen. Sam Slom, part of the Senate group that developed the amended version, said the proposed bill does not go far enough in bringing about reform, but at least it represents a good starting point and has a better chance of passing.

"There was no way the original administration bill was going to go anywhere at all," said Slom (R, Kalama Valley, Aina Haina).

Administration officials could not be reached last night for comment.

While the Senate draft contains provisions that the unions do not like, many key ones that they strongly objected to in Cayetano's plan were deleted.

The Senate draft, for instance, does not replace the right to binding arbitration, which public employees now have for settling contract disputes, with the right to strike, which the administration was seeking.

It also deletes Cayetano's proposal to limit the amount of vacation days and sick leave for new hires.

While the governor wanted to limit the scope of what is subject to negotiations with unions, the Senate version adds more issues, such as vacation benefits, to the bargaining table.

It also eliminates a key Cayetano proposal that would have established employer-appointed merit boards to hear appeals from workers fired or demoted for poor performance. Under the Senate draft, such appeals would go to independent arbitrators -- no change from the status quo.

The Senate version, however, contains two major proposals from Cayetano's bill that the unions adamantly opposed.

One gives the counties the authority to set up their own civil service systems and negotiate their own union contracts.

Another ostensibly would permit management to take unilateral action when it reaches an impasse with a union, provided management can show it made a good-faith attempt to negotiate or consult about the change.

For the unions, the latter provision was among the most objectionable ones in the Cayetano bill.

J.N. Musto, head of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, said he did not consider the Senate version to be substantially different from the administration's.

"They have carried over the essence of what Cayetano wants to do," Musto said.

Sen. Bob Nakata, the Labor chairman, said the proposed changes should lead to more efficiency in government.

Among other things, the draft attempts to clarify what falls under civil service and what falls under collective bargaining. Currently, much overlap exists, which can lead to inefficiency.

"We're trying to unclog the system," Nakata said.

But he stressed that the draft is a work in progress. "Don't look at this as the Senate's position set in concrete."

Legislature Directory
Legislature Bills & Hawaii Revised Statutes

By Ken Sakamoto, Star-Bulletin
State workers gather at the Kalanimoku Building over
civil service reform proposals. For some, the issue is
getting involved in the legislative process for the first
time in their lives.

Unions lobby
against reform measures

For the first time in her life, Nani Aragon, 50, is participating in the state lawmaking process, lobbying legislators, writing letters, making phone calls and urging fellow public workers to do the same.

She can thank Gov. Ben Cayetano for that -- but she probably won't.

In the legislative arena, Aragon, a secretary with the Honolulu Police Department, sees Cayetano as the enemy, a betrayer of state and county workers. Like many of her government colleagues, she helped vote Cayetano into office.

"I'm very sorry I did that now," she says.

What prompted Aragon to begin her lunch-time lobbying is Cayetano's proposal for a massive overhaul of the state's collective-bargaining and civil-service laws.

Cayetano is asking legislators to radically reform the existing public employment system to make it what he says would be more efficient, flexible and accountable.

But Aragon and the proposal's many other critics say it is anti-worker and anti-labor, taking away rights and benefits that state and county employees fought for during the past 30 years.

"It really blew me away," Aragon said of the measure.

Weaker version possible

It apparently blew some legislators away, too. Two Senate committees meeting jointly this afternoon will take testimony on a substitute bill that deletes some key provisions from Cayetano's version.

Two House committees also are scheduled to meet this afternoon to consider their own version of the Cayetano bill. It wasn't clear last night whether the House bill also would be a substantially watered-down version.

If the amended measures are approved by the committees before a critical deadline tomorrow night, the full House and Senate would vote on their respective versions next week.

Then the House and Senate would exchange measures, and the process starts again.

How much of Cayetano's proposal will survive that process -- assuming the Legislature ultimately adopts a reform bill -- may not be known until near the end of the session, which is scheduled to adjourn May 2.

Most of the key players, including some union leaders, predict a reform bill will pass.

Cayetano already has invested a lot of political capital in making civil service reform a major priority this session, helping build public expectations. And the Democratic majority in the House placed reform at the top of its action list before the session started.

But the unions, both public and private, are mounting an unprecedented campaign to see that Cayetano's bill -- or presumably any measure retaining his key concepts -- does not pass.

Representatives from 20 to 30 labor groups, including some that rarely work together or that have no public-employee members, have been meeting weekly to discuss coordinated lobbying efforts on civil service reform.

"We're all in agreement that an injury to one is an injury to all," said Russell Okata, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state's largest public-sector union.

Okata said he could not recall any other legislation in the past that has prompted so many different unions to come together for one purpose.

Such widespread opposition from labor, a voice that still carries clout at the Legislature, is one reason the governor's reform ideas have run into trouble.

Widespread support

Cayetano, though, is not without supporters. Various business groups, county government representatives and others have joined administration executives and some legislators to push for his measure, saying reform is desperately needed to modernize government.

Despite the heavy opposition, Cayetano recently told reporters he was optimistic lawmakers would pass something this session.

"I believe most of the people in the Legislature understand that the people of this state want the government reformed," he said.

The call for reform is due in some respects to the age of the laws. Many provisions were established decades ago, have been little changed and sorely need updating, critics say.

What's more, parts of the civil-service and collective-bargaining systems overlap, and some parts conflict, which can hinder an efficient operation, critics say.

But the unions, while acknowledging that some portions of the system can be improved, say the administration is trying to unfairly recapture what it essentially bargained away or lost via arbitration or court awards over the past three decades.

That is why Aragon, the police secretary and co-chairwoman of an HGEA political action committee, is spending some of her lunch hours and taking comp time to talk to other public workers about the reform attempt.

"We're educating them and now they're very riled up," Aragon said.

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