Thursday, April 19, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

Gov OKs HGEA raise

The 15% increase is dependent
on the union's considering
changes in member benefits

By Richard Borreca

GOV. BEN CAYETANO and the 24,000-member Hawaii Government Employees Association have a tentative deal on the white-collar union's nearly 15 percent pay raise.

Six months ago, Cayetano said he considered the arbitrated award to have lapsed and that any attempt by the Legislature to fund it now would be illegal, and would be vetoed.

But yesterday, HGEA executive director Russell Okata said Cayetano agreed not to veto the arbitrated pay raise in return for the union considering changes to the working conditions for newly hired HGEA members.

"As far as I am concerned, our package is completed, pending legislative action. I am very relieved at this point," Okata said.

"We are very pleased that the governor has removed the threat to veto the arbitration award," Okata said.

"It is contingent on HGEA considering new levels of vacation and sick leave for future employees hired after July 2, 2001," Okata added.

Also under consideration would be a new "two-strike only" drug-testing policy for new employees.

"He said if this works out, he would be able to support our arbitration award," Okata said.

Cayetano's spokeswoman, Kim Murakawa, confirmed yesterday there was a tentative agreement and a draft was being written.

Last October, Cayetano said there was no arbitrated package to fund because there was nothing before the Legislature.

"Our position on the HGEA arbitration award is that it is not legal," Cayetano said six months ago.

"Should the Legislature fund such an award, our position would be that it is illegal because it is not before the common Legislature at all.

"There is no way to get it to them -- I submitted it to the previous Legislature, not this Legislature," Cayetano said then.

Okata said the compromise would result in the Legislature passing the arbitrated award and, after the Legislature adjourns next month, the HGEA and the Cayetano administration would negotiate changes and possibly reductions in vacation and sick leave for newly hired state workers.

If there was no agreement, Okata said he assumed the governor could still veto the pay raise.

"He has the hammer up to veto day," Okata said.

The compromise would also avoid a series of legal challenges to the contract, which Okata said would work to the benefit of his union members.

The changes in contract benefits are similar to ones already agreed to by the United Public Workers, but Okata said he still wanted to negotiate changes with the state and not simply take the same reductions as accepted by UPW.

That contract provides 12 to 24 days of vacation leave earned on an increasing scale based on years of service. Currently, workers get 21 days regardless of years of service. Also, the UPW contract gives new workers only 15 days of sick leave annually, which gradually goes up to 21 days.

Okata said the HGEA compromise was put together by Lt. Gov. Mazie Hirono, who brokered a meeting between Okata and Cayetano.

"She asked me (to) sit down, and we candidly discussed it, so I have to thank Mazie for bringing us together," Okata said.

He added that since he also has known Cayetano for several decades, he was able to work with the sometimes-stubborn governor.

"I enjoy a close personal relationship with the governor and, knowing his personality, I was very patient," Okata said.

Legislative leaders have said they wanted to fund the HGEA awards, but House Speaker Calvin Say said he wanted all union contracts completed before voting on any of them.

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