Friday, March 30, 2001

Cayetano denied
additional power

The governor requests
power to help comply
with the Felix decree

By Crystal Kua

Gov. Ben Cayetano said the planned April 5 strike by public school teachers was not the catalyst for him asking a judge for special powers in a federal mandate to improve special-education services.

"I made the request because I wanted to help speed up the state's ability to comply with the Felix consent decree," the governor said. "It had nothing to do with the impending strike."

With teachers set to return to their classrooms Monday from spring vacation in what could be the final days leading up to Thursday's strike, they are scheduled to gather today at different sites across the state to get the latest information on strike plans.

In a separate gathering today, state schools Superintendent Paul LeMahieu and members of the Board of Education were to outline what parents and students could expect in the event of a walkout by teachers.

No new talks are scheduled between negotiators for the state and the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which represents nearly 13,000 teachers.

The teachers union is asking for a 22 percent raise, which it says will cost the state $260 million. But union officials have said they would accept an offer as low as $160 million.

The state, however, has capped its offer at $67 million with its proposal calling for salary increases ranging from 10 to 20 percent, or an average of 12 percent.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra said he is not going to intervene in the current collective-bargaining talks.

"I have no intention of delegating the authority this court may possess to interfere with any ongoing labor dispute," Ezra said yesterday during a hearing.

But if a strike does occur, he will be watching to see what kind of impact a walkout could have on the state's ability to comply with the Felix consent decree, the federal mandate to improve educational and mental health services to special-needs students.

But he made it clear that at this point he did not want the consent decree to be used as a "bargaining chip" in the current contract negotiations.

The state was found in contempt of court for failing to meet court-ordered improvements by last year's deadline. The state now has until the end of the year to comply.

To help move compliance along, Ezra bestowed special powers upon the heads of the departments of health and education to override procurement, civil service, collective-bargaining and other laws and regulations.

Cayetano asked Ezra to give him the same powers and to also allow him to be the final arbiter in disagreements between the two departments.

Ezra said he was "puzzled" by the governor's request. He said the governor already has the authority he is requesting as the head of the state government.

The legal actions include the pending decision by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board on whether the HSTA committed practices prohibited by law. The state filed complaints alleging the union has been negotiating in bad faith, not moving from its bargaining position. The state also accuses the union of illegally instructing its members to identify anyone crossing the picket line.

If the complaints are upheld or remain unresolved, teachers may be prevented from striking.

E-mail to City Desk

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

© 2001 Honolulu Star-Bulletin