By Rob PerezWednesday, April 18, 2001
As thousands of Hawaii's public school teachers walked the picket lines last week, only two House members dared to vote against a bill that would give teachers annual pay raises based on seniority.
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Forty-seven of their House colleagues voted for the measure. All 25 members of the Senate approved a similar bill last month.
For taking such unpopular positions, Reps. Ed Case, a Manoa Democrat, and Jim Rath, a Kona Republican, now face the wrath of striking teachers. E-mails and letters arrive daily taking the two legislators to task. Some sound warnings about the next election.
What's amazing is that Case and Rath were the only ones who cast the appropriate votes. Pay issues are best left to management and union negotiators in the collective-bargaining arena, not to part-time legislators. Such issues are best addressed in a forum where negotiators can evaluate and debate cost ramifications of various proposals in the context of the overall contract and the state's fiscal condition.
Yet even as the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Cayetano administration were trying to hammer out a contract, legislators were moving two bills requiring incremental raises based on seniority and vague performance standards. Two versions are now before conference committees.
For over a decade, such pay issues have been part of the negotiating process. Now, with the teachers on strike and experts warning of a worsening crisis in teacher retention and recruitment, legislators want to jump into the fray.
"When you do that, you cut the legs from underneath collective bargaining," Case said. "You're taking sides and gutting the collective-bargaining process. That's wrong."
Teachers have been unhappy about the meager incremental raises -- which are different from across-the-board pay increases -- they've received in recent years. They want the Legislature to fix the problem.
And legislators won't say no.
"They just don't want to risk the wrath of the teachers," Case said.
Ironically, this same Legislature last year approved moderate civil service reforms that, among other things, keep wage and benefit issues under collective bargaining.
But Rep. K. Mark Takai, one of the House sponsors of the incremental-pay bill, says the collective-bargaining system has failed in this specific area.
"Bottom line is, if we're going to be competitive and avert a crisis, not only for our education system, but for the entire state, we're going to have to address this," Takai said.
No argument there. Teachers deserve much higher salaries. But let the professionals negotiate that. Legislators shouldn't be meddling in what is best decided at the bargaining table.
"You can't have it both ways," Rath says. "That makes a real mess."
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,
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