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Tuesday, May 2, 2000

Legislature 2000

Critics: Unions
scuttled reforms

'I had hoped for a sea
change, and we didn't
get it,' Cayetano says

By Richard Borreca


Critics are already labeling the 20th Legislature a session of "missed opportunities," as public employee labor unions squashed much of the major government reform measures.

"I had hoped for a sea change, and we didn't get it," Gov. Ben Cayetano said, after spending two years lobbying for major changes in state government.

While most legislative leaders praised the session, Rep. Ed Case, House Democratic leader, joined Cayetano in lamenting the Legislature's failure to act on the major portions of the Cayetano civil service reform package.

The Legislature is expected to end today without taking overtime pay out of the calculations for public worker pensions, without allowing managers to fire employees who twice tested positive for drugs, and without ending binding arbitration on contract disputes.

"The public union movement would be better off and farther along if it represented the mainstream," said Case (D, Manoa).

"There were such high expectations and there was so much that could have been done," said Rep. Barbara Marumoto (R, Waialae Iki), House Republican leader.

"There is no real plan for a private prison, and the civil service bill falls terribly short," she said.

Legislators were also asked to head off a pending economic meltdown of the employee health system by creating union benefit health trust funds, but Cayetano said the unions balked at that.

Cayetano, who owes much of the success of his last gubernatorial campaign to the solid backing of the public and private unions, says those same unions today enjoy a commanding position at the Legislature.

"I understand that a conference committee is a meeting between the House and Senate -- not the House, Senate and the unions meeting in conference," Cayetano said in reference to lawmakers in the closing hours of the session shuttling back and forth in meetings with Gary Rodrigues, United Public Workers state director.

Rodrigues, according to several legislators, was a key player in the civil service, prison privatization and even the teachers' accountability bills.

Even Democratic stalwart and former Speaker of the House Joe Souki (D, Wailuku) said: "It was a Legislature that certainly could have done better."

He worried about the mounting public employee payroll costs, saying if the Legislature approves pay raises next year, it will add $300 million to the budget.

"The Legislature didn't do anything, and next year there is going to be big pilikia and there's not enough in the budget," he said.

The Legislature today is set to approve two portions of Cayetano's reform package: incentive programs to retire workers with jobs that are to be phased out, and merit pay for managers.

While Cayetano was refusing to officially say what he thought about the reform package, his human resources director, Mike McCartney, who directed the administration's campaign, said it addressed many of the issues on the table. He proclaimed it a success.

The unions, however, see this session as a sign that their power may not be as strong in the past.

Seeking unity

Russell Okata, Hawaii Government Employees Association executive director, wants a major push at the state Democratic convention to solidify the party with the unions.

"We are going to ask them to strengthen their traditional relationship with unions and the labor movement," Okata said.

But, he added, HGEA would also feel comfortable with "young, moderate" Republicans in the fall elections.

House members shouldn't rely just on the unions and should broaden their support, said Case, who notes the unions have to change. "I'm saying to (House) members, you can go forward without them (the unions) or you can stay behind with them," Case said.

When Democratic politicians start going house to house in the fall campaigns, Case predicted they are going to be surprised.

"They will be surprised what they hear; this is not a good time for the public unions, and what they hear is going to be very sobering."

The state administration has already picked up on that trend and is not placing much emphasis on cordial union relations.

Cayetano, for instance, is asking if he has to abide by an arbitration award promising 15 percent pay raises in the third and fourth years of a new contract.

Legislators this year are not going to address the report because it doesn't call for any more money this year.

But, Cayetano said if the Legislature doesn't act on the arbitration report, he may be able to drop it and simply start up negotiations again next year.

Before he moves ahead in an area from which he is sure to draw union protests, Cayetano yesterday said he is asking for a legal opinion on whether he has to abide by the arbitration report.

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