Rob Perez

Raising Cane

By Rob Perez

Sunday, April 15, 2001

In bargaining, all should
be feeling the heat

If James Takushi were running the show, things would be different. A lot different. The retired bureaucrat has more than 30 years of state government experience, much of it as a chief labor negotiator or personnel director. He served under several gubernatorial administrations, from John Burns to Ben Cayetano.

When he retired two years ago as the state's human resources director, Takushi was one of the most experienced public labor negotiators in Hawaii. He helped shape the 1970 collective bargaining law under which public unions still bargain contracts. He has negotiated labor pacts of all sorts, including those for teachers and university faculty.

Drawing from that experience, Takushi on Friday shared some thoughts on the strikes that have crippled Hawaii's public education system. He's not optimistic settlements are imminent.

If Takushi were in charge, he said he would have the bargaining teams holed up in rooms, talking almost around the clock. Too much is at stake to do otherwise.

"I'd be meeting 24 hours if need be until we settled," he said.

All the key decision-makers would be there. No details would be made public until a deal was struck. Separate rooms would be available to regroup or rest, but the key people would be at the bargaining table, cajoling and yelling and posturing and sweating.

"Everybody should be feeling the heat," Takushi said.

He stressed the need to keep bargaining positions confidential. In the current disputes, too many details have been made public. The sides have become too entrenched.

"Once you take a particular position publicly, it's very difficult to retract it," Takushi said.

That entrenchment also can lead to bitterness and anger, making a settlement all the more difficult. Takushi said current negotiators seem to lack mutual respect. "You can fight like hell, but you've got to have a certain amount of respect and trust for the opposition."

In the years Takushi was the state's chief negotiator under Gov. George Ariyoshi and the University of Hawaii's chief negotiator under Gov. John Waihee, he says contract talks were settled without strikes. Most of the negotiating would be done by Takushi and his people, staying within the general parameters approved by his boss but keeping the big guy generally detached from the talks until near the end.

"I always made it so the governor came in at the last minute so he would conclude (the negotiations) and be the hero," Takushi said. Cayetano, however, is not like that. "This governor gets involved from the very beginning," Takushi said.

To settle the strikes, Takushi believes the Cayetano administration should look even harder for ways to move closer to what the teachers and faculty want. Otherwise, he fears the walkouts will last a lot longer.

And the longer they last, the longer Hawaii will take to recover from the damage.

Star-Bulletin columnist Rob Perez writes on issues
and events affecting Hawaii. Fax 529-4750, or write to
Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 500 Ala Moana Blvd., No. 7-210,
Honolulu 96813. He can also be reached
by e-mail at:

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