[ TEACHER STRIKE ]
HTSTA negotiationsThe state and teachers union are scheduled to resume talks tomorrow afternoon after negotiations with a federal mediator ended last night without a resolution of the two-week-old strike.
set for tomorrow
Talks with a mediator went
for 7 hours last night,
but to no avail
By Crystal Kua
and Debra Barayuga
After a seven-hour session with the federal mediator, Joan Husted, chief negotiator for the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said the talks were not as productive as expected. She complained about state negotiator Davis Yogi having to divide his time between the teachers' and professors' negotiations.
Husted said that if the state's chief negotiator has had to juggle bargaining sessions between the HSTA and the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, "maybe it's time to put two negotiators in -- one for us, one for UHPA," Husted said. "We can't keep asking people to stay out on strike and schools getting closed because the state's negotiator is too busy."
The labor dispute that led to the April 5 strike by public teachers has focused on raises. The two sides remain about $100 million apart in their wage proposals. All schools but the one on Niihau remain closed.
Bargaining began just hours after Gov. Ben Cayetano and the union announced that they reached agreement yesterday that would keep health benefits for striking public school teachers intact during the walkout.
The agreement also lifts a major hurdle to a new contract by the state's nearly 13,000 public school teachers.
"This issue has been somewhat troublesome to us, and that's why we have moved to set it aside," said Cayetano, who was flanked by HSTA President Karen Ginoza and U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, described as the "federal mediator" for the health benefits issue. "It's getting in the way of the negotiations as a whole." The union sued the state after Cayetano refused to pay the state's share of the cost of health benefits.
Cayetano had said he considers any striking employee on "unauthorized leave," making them ineligible for any compensation including benefits.
But Ginoza said the agreement means that the union can now focus on negotiating a contract settlement. "This removes a major barrier to trying to reach settlement on our contract," Ginoza said.
The agreement averted a court hearing that had been slated for yesterday during which the union was going to ask for a restraining order to prevent teachers from losing their benefits.
Circuit Judge Richard Pollack approved the agreement that would have the state continue to pay its share of teachers' health benefits and enrollment in the Hawaii Public Employees Health Fund. The HSTA will also withdraw its motion for a preliminary injunction seeking a court order to maintain health benefits for striking teachers.
"We wouldn't enter into a stipulation like this unless we thought it would benefit the members," Yu said. The state, however, is reserving its right to seek reimbursement of the contributions. "If we can't agree, we'll go back to court," Yu said.
Deputy Attorney General Francis Keeno said it was up to the governor to determine whether striking workers are on unauthorized leave, "but if paying the premiums will help to settle the contract, he's willing to do it."
Meanwhile, more than a 1,000 striking teachers, professors and their supporters turned out at a rally at Kapiolani Park yesterday that included a speech by a national labor leader.
Bob Chase, president of the National Education Association, the parent union of the HSTA and UHPA, said Hawaii's teachers and professors having been working toward quality teaching in the islands but do not hold all the cards.
"Seems to me that one of the quality issues that has got to be addressed is not in their hands -- it's in the hands of the governor -- and that is the question of salaries."
Chase said the historic strike -- which virtually shut down public education -- is an event watched by the nation. "I just hope that the fact that the president of the NEA happens to be here today will show people the importance of this issue, the importance of this strike, the concern that we all have as it relates to education here."
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>> Governor's strike Web site
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