Thursday, March 29, 2001

No winners when
teachers walk out

The issue: Simultaneous strikes
by the faculty at the University
of Hawaii and the state's public
school teachers threaten
catastrophic harm to Hawaii.

The twin strikes threatened by public school teachers and the university's faculty for a week from today must be averted. Otherwise, they could severely disrupt the community, damage confidence in our governing officials and weaken the trust of our young people in their educators.

No one wants these strikes - not the teachers and professors, not parents or students, not the governor or legislators, not our business leaders and working people - no one.

Although the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the state are negotiating again and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly is working with a federal mediator, the posturing and arguing are drowning out the voices of reason.

Last night, Governor Cayetano and the president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, Karen Ginoza, made taped appearances on four television stations to defend their positions. UHPA's request to participate was denied because the governor said he wanted to talk about one issue at a time.

With the walkouts looming just seven days away, it's time for everyone to quit blustering and get down to serious business.

The state and the teacher's union remain at a stalemate over money. HSTA wants across-the-board raises and step increases for a total of 22 percent over a four-year contract. It says the higher salaries are needed to attract and retain qualified teachers to Hawaii's schools. The state proposes to increase starting teacher pay by 20 percent, with a 10 percent increase for those at the top of the scale, for an average of 12 percent. The teachers have been working without a contract since 1999.

University of Hawaii faculty also has been working without a contract since 1999. UHPA wants 12 percent in across-the-board increases through the next two years, with an additional 1 percent in merit pay. The state has offered 7 percent in raises over two years with the possibility of an additional 3 percent in merit pay at UH's Manoa, West Oahu and Hilo campuses. Community college faculty would receive raises totaling $4,755 over two years, with another possible 1 percent merit increase.

Beyond wages, several other issues remain unresolved, including health and retirement benefits for faculty who take the summer months off, the faculty's share of patent royalties and the workloads at community colleges.

On the surface, it appears the unions and the state cannot reach a settlement but, if cooler heads prevail, it may be possible. Davis Yogi, the state's chief negotiator, has indicated that health and retirement benefits and a five-day payroll lag may be bargaining points UHPA can use to get the pay increases.

Meanwhile, at a hearing Tuesday before the Hawaii State Labor Relations Board, HSTA officials said the union may be willing settle for less in wages. In testimony about a state complaint that the union was not bargaining in good faith, negotiation specialist Irene Igawa said HSTA had made a verbal counterproposal that would cost $160 million, $100 million less than the cost of its 22 percent proposal.

In this situation, it may be difficult for participants to separate politics and ego from rational action. The unions and Governor Cayetano have aggravated the problems with harsh rhetoric splashed in newspaper and television ads, with picket signs, and with slogans on T-shirts, each vying for the sympathy of the general public.

These strikes, if not averted, will most likely open a rift between the Democratic Party and the labor unions, which through much of Hawaii's history have worked to improve working environments and build economic bases. The fallout could alter political standards as people once comfortable in the embrace of the ruling party begin to further question its priorities and vision.

HSTA President Ginoza recently praised Governor Cayetano for protecting teachers from previous budget cuts. But earlier this week, she appeared puzzled by what she considered to be his hard line in contract talks. "He has been able to work with us before, but to be in a deadlock with us right now, I don't know," she said.

The HSTA, which put its weight behind Cayetano in his election, has "historically recommended Democrats for governor," she said. The recommendations come from individual teachers and not from the union leadership, she said in a cautionary note.

A Star-Bulletin poll earlier this year showed overwhelming support for a pay increase for public school teachers. If these walkouts occur, however, that support could quickly wither as economic and political impacts reverberate throughout the community.

There are indications of wiggle room in the negotiations. Both unions and all parties should move to explore those options. If not, Hawaii will have the dubious honor of being the first state in U.S. history to have its entire public education system shut down.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4747;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4751;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4751;
Richard Halloran, editorial director 529-4790;
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