Teachers unionThe president of the teachers' union is "not very optimistic" about reaching a contract settlement with the state.
official not optimistic
The Hawaii State Teachers
Association is offering to enter
into binding arbitration
By Crystal Kua
To avert a public schoolteachers strike, the Hawaii State Teachers Association is offering to enter into binding arbitration with the state, Karen Ginoza said.
"We offered binding arbitration because we want to do everything in our power to settle this contract before being forced to go on strike," Ginoza said.
But the state has turned down binding arbitration. "It's not a good idea," said chief negotiator Davis Yogi.
Gov. Ben Cayetano has criticized binding arbitration in the past because he believes arbitrators have given more to unions than the state can afford.
Ginoza's comments came as the union responded publicly to a recommendation by a fact-finding panel on how to settle the teachers contract negotiations.
The panel recommended step increases throughout the proposed four-year deal and across- the-board raises of 3 percent for each of the last two years. The raises total about 19 percent.
A starting teacher's pay would jump to about $34,000 a year under the panel's recommendation, from the current $29,000 a year.
The report also chided the state for being "less than cooperative and open" during the fact-finding process.
Cayetano rejected the report, saying the state can't afford the 19 percent raise recommended by the panel or the 22 percent raise the union is requesting.
The governor also released a copy of the state's response, in which Yogi said, "It is unfortunate that the fact-finding process proved to be an exercise that has done little to advance the cause of reaching a just and fair settlement."
Ginoza praised the fact finders' report because it acknowledged several issues the union was trying to emphasize, including addressing a teacher shortage.
"Our children need more teachers, our teachers are grossly underpaid and the state has the money to provide them with just compensation," Ginoza said.
While the recommendation was "attractive," the report left out raises for the first two years for the most experienced teachers, Ginoza said.
One of those is Kaimuki Middle School special education teacher June Motokawa.
"We've taken 30-some years to reach this. I know for myself teaching has always been a highly valued profession for me -- that's why I stayed and that's one of the reasons I returned to the classroom," Motokawa said.
Motokawa, who was union president the last time a teachers strike loomed over the state, said teachers are feeling the stress of the prolonged talks.
"The sentiment in the field is one of anger. One more time we're being dragged through this," said Motokawa. "Why can't we just settle? Why can't the state understand where we're at?"
As part of the impasse process, rejection of the fact finders' report means both sides are now in a 60-day cooling-off period, during which the union can call for a strike vote at any time.
The earliest that a teacher's strike could occur is at the end of the cooling-off period in mid-March.
"If we have to prepare for a strike, it takes all of our energy to prepare for that, and so we're looking at binding arbitration as a way for us to get a fair settlement," Ginoza said.
"We would rather be teaching. ... We don't want to go on strike and we hope the state won't make us go on strike," Ginoza said.