Advertisement - Click to support our sponsors.

Friday, March 24, 2000

By Kathryn Bender, Star-Bulletin
Officials from public and private unions spoke against civil
service reform bills yesterday at the state Legislature.
Here, Russell Okata of HGEA has his turn.

Unions’ ad
campaign combats
civil service reform

A House leader says labor's
'bunker mentality' would
stifle the economy

Civil Service Reform, Point by Point

By Rob Perez


The next round of the battle royal over civil service reform is under way.

A coalition of more than 60 public- and private-sector unions yesterday launched an advertising campaign designed to derail the main reform measure now before the state Legislature.

The latest salvo came in a full-page advertisement that ran in the Honolulu Star-Bulletin yesterday. The ad attacks civil service reform as a way to destroy collective bargaining for Hawaii workers.

It is only one part of an intensive lobbying effort that will include a union rally April 19 at the state Capitol.

The labor groups are embarking on the campaign as legislators head into the final five weeks of the session and prepare to make crucial decisions on the House and Senate versions of Gov. Ben Cayetano's main reform bill.

The message being sent to lawmakers is unambiguous: Vote for reform, and risk the wrath of unions representing roughly 100,000 working families.

Asked if labor would target pro-reform legislators in upcoming elections, Thad Tomei, president of the Hawaii State AFL-CIO, replied, "I think it's best to say we'll support our friends."

Gov. Ben Cayetano, a friend of labor in the past, says overhauling government operations is his top priority this session. He believes meaningful reform is vital if Hawaii is to prosper in today's information-driven, fast-changing global marketplace. But his main reform plan has not fared well thus far at the Legislature.

The House and Senate dropped or substantially revised many major elements of the governor's reform blueprint to come up with their own versions.

The unions do not like any of them. They say all three, under the guise of civil service reform, would take away hard-earned rights and benefits from government workers and undo years of collective bargaining gains.

Although private-sector unions would not be directly affected by the proposed legislation, about 60 of them have joined the campaign. They believe some of the reforms, if enacted, could spread to the private sector as well.

"A threat to one (union) is a threat to all," said Russell Okata, head of the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

Rep. Ed Case, House majority leader and one of the Legislature's strongest reform advocates, said he was disappointed the unions are sticking with such a hard-nosed position, leaving little room for compromise.

"I'm upset at the bunker mentality, this 'all or nothing, us against them,'" Case said. "It creates tremendous polarization. It's not the way to work ourselves out of a tough problem."

Case said he doubts the labor leaders' positions represent those of the majority of Hawaii residents, including many union members. About 80 percent to 90 percent of the people in his Manoa district who responded to a recent mail-in survey said they supported civil service reform, according to Case.

He said meaningful reform is key to revitalizing Hawaii's economy, and a revitalized economy will benefit all union workers.

Such vastly different takes on reform underscore the difficulty the Legislature faces in reaching a consensus in the session's remaining weeks. Going into the session, Cayetano was expected to have the toughest time selling his proposal to the Senate, historically the more pro-labor body.

But just the opposite has happened. Of the two versions, the Senate's is much closer to the administration's. The House version falls so far short that it is embarrassing, Case says.

In the next few weeks, though, either plan can undergo still more revisions. The current versions merely form the rough boundaries for negotiating a compromise, legislators say.

By the session's May 2 scheduled ending, Senate President Norman Mizuguchi and House Speaker Calvin Say are expected to play major roles in shaping a final version -- if one emerges. Rep. Dwight Takamine, head of the Finance committee and a labor ally, and Sen. Bob Nakata, head of the Senate labor panel, also are among the key players.

Gov. Ben Cayetano: He wants
to make government more efficient and
nimble so it can better adapt to today's
so-called new economy.

Civil Service Reform
in Hawaii

By Rob Perez


Bullet Negotiating autonomy

A look at the issues:

Issue: The state and counties collectively negotiate labor contracts that apply statewide. One civil service system (personnel rules, job classifications, recruiting regulations, etc.) also applies statewide. When contracts are negotiated with unions, the state has four votes on the management team; each of the counties has one vote.

Administration concerns: The system is obsolete and doesn't provide enough flexibility to address the different needs and resources of governments in each county. Instead, it's a "one-size-fits-all" approach.1

Union concerns: Uniformity ensures equal pay for equal work. If one county is allowed to pay more, poorer counties will suffer, losing workers to higher-paying areas.2

Proposed solutions:

Administration: Permits the counties and Hawaii Health Systems Corp. to negotiate their own labor contracts and establish their own civil-service systems. Gives more autonomy to the University of Hawaii and the Department of Education.

Senate: Basically the same as the administration's, although more entities -- such as UH and the Judiciary -- would be able to negotiate their own contracts.

House: Maintains the statewide system, but changes management voting mix to give greater voice to certain groups. For instance, the counties, not the state, would get majority votes in police and firefighter talks because they employ all the police and the vast majority of firefighters. On specific issues, individual employer groups such as the counties would be able to negotiate separate agreements with the unions. Separate job classification systems also are permitted, based on the principle of equal pay for equal work statewide.

Public and private labor unions:
They believe current reform versions take
away rights and benefits from
government workers.

Bullet Right to strike

A look at the issues:

Issue: Labor impasses are resolved through binding arbitration using independent arbitrators from outside Hawaii.

Administration concerns: Arbitrators too often favor employees and don't sufficiently take into account the overall financial health of the employer.1

Union concerns: Binding arbitration is the modern way to resolve impasses. It ensures fairness without the threat of disrupting government services.2

Proposed solutions:

Administration: Eliminates binding arbitration and replaces it with the right to strike for all but firefighters and police officers. In resolving cost disputes for the latter groups, the arbitrator must consider the state's overall financial health.

Senate: Maintains the arbitration system but restricts what an arbitrator can consider. The arbitrator, for instance, can no longer use the employer's ability to raise taxes as justification for awarding wage increases.

House: Adopts right to strike for all but police and firefighters. Arbitration standards for the latter groups would not be tightened.

State legislators: They must try to
appease voters expecting meaningful reform
while not antagonizing public-sector unions
who provide important support
at election time -- this fall.

Bullet Scope of collective bargaining

A look at the issues:

Issue: Over the past 30 years, court rulings, arbitration awards, law amendments, contract revisions and other changes have blurred what is subject to contract negotiations and what is subject to civil service regulations, sometimes creating conflicting or overlapping rules and procedures.

Administration concerns: Many issues that should be solely decided by employers have become negotiable, dragging out attempts to change the status quo and hindering management's ability to manage.1

Union concerns: Employees are entitled to participate in decision-making about proposed changes to their benefits, wages and working conditions, and any attempt to narrow that bargaining scope would be unfair.2

Proposed solutions:

Administration: Specifies that certain benefits and work conditions now negotiated be set by law, such as establishing a cap on vacation and sick leave for new hires and implementing a "two-strikes-you're-out" drug-testing policy. Overall, the bill would narrow scope of what is bargainable for employees.

Senate: Expands the scope of collective bargaining to include basically all matters except job classifications, recruitment, examinations and setting salary ranges for newly created positions. Those issues would remain under civil service.

House: Basically no change, although the bill would establish a pre-employment drug-testing policy and streamline the process for obtaining salary overpayments from employees. Such issues currently are subject to collective bargaining.

Bullet Performance appraisal system

A look at the issues:

Issue: Employees currently are compensated based on seniority. In addition, division chiefs get automatic pay increases linked to negotiated pay raises in union contracts.

Administration concerns: Unlike most employers, the government doesn't reward workers for performance. All other things being equal, employees who do the bare minimum are paid the same as top performers. Without performance incentives, productivity and efficiency can suffer.1

Union concerns: The concept of pay-for-performance is sound, but finding a fair, impartial way to measure performance is the problem. Standards can be subjective, enabling management to play favorites. If performance incentives are adopted, however, eligibility shouldn't be limited to managers but open to all workers.2

Proposed solutions:

Administration: Mandates performance appraisal system but doesn't specify details. Exempts division chiefs from civil service so they may be appointed by the chief executive, with the intention of paying them based on performance.

Senate: Makes performance appraisal system subject to collective bargaining.

House: Authorizes suspension, demotion, transfer or firing of employees who repeatedly fail to meet performance standards after being given warnings and retraining. Requires top managers to certify the accuracy of performance appraisals. Allows removal of managers who falsify certifications. Links pay raises for top managers to performance standards but doesn't exempt administrators from civil service protections.

Bullet Making unilateral change

A look at the issues:

Issue: The current system gives unions near-veto power over proposed changes involving work conditions.

Administration concerns: Challenges to union-opposed changes can take months or years to go through the grievance process, hindering efforts to make operations more efficient. That's why it has taken years, for example, for the city to switch many of Oahu's garbage routes to an automated system.1

Union concerns: The current system provides a good balance between management and employees, giving the latter a say on matters that affect their working conditions. If change takes years to implement, management usually is to blame, as was the case with automated trash pickups.2

Proposed solutions:

Administration: Allows employer to implement proposed changes in the event of an impasse if management can show that good-faith negotiations or consultations with a union were attempted.

Senate: Same as administration's.

House: Maintains status quo.

Bullet Merit appeals board

A look at the issues:

Issue: If a grievance over disciplinary action cannot be resolved internally, it ultimately is referred to an outside arbitrator for binding arbitration. That is true even in cases stemming from a worker's poor performance.

Administration concerns: The arbitrator's primary focus is the collective-bargaining agreement, not the merit principle. If a person is fired or demoted because of poor performance, those appeals should not be referred to arbitrators but to a panel whose primary focus is the merit principle.1

Union concerns: The existing system is fair and leaves final decisions in the hands of neutral third parties who can objectively examine the facts. An appeals board whose members are appointed by the employer would bring politics into the process and be unfairly titled against workers.2

Proposed solutions:

Administration: Establishes employer-appointed merit appeals boards whose members would have final say on firings or demotions related to poor performance.

Senate: Basically maintains the status quo.

House: Basically maintains the status quo.

Bullet Streamlining Personnel Rule-Making

A look at the issues:

Issue: Rules made by public agencies must go through an elaborate administrative process (Chapter 91 of Hawaii statutes) that gives the public the chance to comment on the proposed rules.

Administration concerns: Personnel agencies that don't make rules directly affecting the public still have to spend time and money to abide by the Chapter 91 process, which creates unnecessary red tape and expenses.1

Union concerns: Some streamlining is needed, but changes should be made via the collective-bargaining process. And no matter what revisions are made, the opportunity for public comment should be maintained.2

Proposed solutions:

Administration: Exempts personnel rule-making from Chapter 91 while maintaining the requirement of consultation with the unions and other affected parties.

Senate: Maintains status quo.

House: Maintains status quo except in areas of recruiting and classification, which become exempt from Chapter 91.

Bullet Deadlines for cost items

A look at the issues:

Issue: When legislators consider the biennial state operating budget, they often don't know early on how much to set aside for items that will need funding as a result of contract talks between the state/counties and unions. Those negotiated cost items in recent years typically have been submitted toward the end of the session.

Administration concerns: Legislators usually have to evaluate the operating budget without knowing fully what the tab will be for pay raises and other items that come out of labor talks.1

Union concerns: Collective-bargaining cost items should be submitted at the same time as the operating-budget request. But failure to meet that deadline shouldn't prohibit the Legislature from approving the measures retroactively. Otherwise, the employer could intentionally stall the bargaining process and break the deadline, merely to defer paying for the items being considered.2

Proposed solutions:

Administration: Requires collective-bargaining cost items be submitted to the Legislature at the same time as the biennium budget request. Prohibits retroactive application of those items if the deadline isn't met, which means any pay raises and other cost items could not take effect until July 1 of the following year at earliest. If the Legislature fails to take action on the items, they are considered rejected.

Senate: Basically the same as the administration's, although the retroactivity prohibition would only kick in if the union fails to bargain in good faith.

House: Adopts specific submission deadlines. Prohibits retroactivity if the deadlines aren't met.

Bullet Benefit caps

A look at the issues:

Issue: State and county workers after one year of service get 21 days each of annual sick leave and vacation -- the most generous policy in the nation, says a 1998 survey of government benefits.

Administration concerns: The government no longer can afford to give such generous benefits, which reflect a bygone era when government salaries substantially lagged private-sector pay.1

Union concerns: Workers deserve the benefits they now have. If the government wants to cut costs, it needs to look at wasteful spending and other areas -- not cutting benefits for existing or future employees.2

Proposed solutions:

Administration: New hires initially would get 10 days each for vacation and sick leave. That would increase to a maximum of 14 days each, depending on years of service.

Senate: Maintains status quo but makes clear benefits are negotiable.

House: Maintains status quo.

1 Summarizes what state or county administrators have said about the issues.

2 Highlights objections by some, not necessarily all, unions.

E-mail to City Desk

Text Site Directory:
[News] [Business] [Features] [Sports] [Editorial] [Do It Electric!]
[Classified Ads] [Search] [Subscribe] [Info] [Letter to Editor]

© 2000 Honolulu Star-Bulletin