Wednesday, May 2, 2001

Hawaii State Seal

Labor overhaul
passes Legislature

The historic reform dramatically
changes public worker laws

>> Who voted for public-worker bills?
>> Key bills that passed and died.

By Richard Borreca

In just one day, the Legislature dramatically overhauled the state's public worker laws, changing how unions bargain, how health benefits are handled and even how private companies can do public work.

The most controversial of the two bills, which reforms the public workers health fund, slid by the Senate on a 13-to-12 vote.

Legislature "This represents a sea change," Gov. Ben Cayetano said in a news conference after the bill's passage.

"In terms of reform, you can't help but give the Legislature an A; this is the most reform I have seen in my 26 years (in state government)," Cayetano said.

The health fund changes scrap the unions' health funds and put public workers into one state-managed health fund system, which supporters say will cut hundreds of millions of dollars from the state budget in the next decade.

The other bill allows the state and counties to privatize government jobs, restores the right to strike by public workers and does away with mandatory arbitration.

The changes, however, didn't come easy. The debate was long and legislators confessed that the political pressure from unions and union supporters was immense.

Complaining that the unions and the state administration were giving the Legislature different figures for how much the changes would save, Sen. Cal Kawamoto (D, Waipahu) was worried that a mistake would be costly. "What figures do we believe? Do we sacrifice our political career for that? We want to come back," he said.

Sen. Colleen Hanabusa (D, Waianae), a labor attorney, helped steer the bills through the Senate, saying her office was flooded with faxes and e-mails against the bills. "We have received veiled threats, but this has been my pet peeve since 1999," she said. "It took a long time to get it to the floor."

Another pro-labor senator, Bob Nakata (D, Kaneohe), chairman of the Labor Committee, argued during the debate that the health fund changes will "preserve the benefits of our employees. If we don't do this now, we will find it more difficult to deal with in the future," he said.

House Democratic leaders have been pushing the health fund and privatization bills since early January.

During the debate yesterday, former House Speaker Joe Souki (D, East Maui) predicted that state workers will lose their jobs if government is allowed to privatize their jobs. "With one stroke of the pen this will eliminate the warm body policy and turn it into the cold body policy," he said.

But others argued for action now.

"Let's do it now, while we have the will to change," Rep. Nobu Yonamine (D, Pearl City) said.

Rep. Brian Schatz (D, Makiki) called the measures "the biggest government reform in a decade."

"It will lead to quality wages for both public and private agencies," he said.

The issue split Senate Republicans, with Sens. Bob Hogue (R, Kaneohe) and Fred Hemmings (R, Kailua) voting against the health fund measure, because they said it put too much responsibility on the state administration to make reforms.

But GOP leader Sen. Sam Slom (R, Hawaii Kai) voted for it, earning him the praise of Cayetano, who noted the one-vote margin. "Without Sen. Slom we would have been one short; the Republicans can also take credit," he said.

Union leaders, however, were upset by the votes.

Russell Okata, Hawaii Government Employees Association executive director, called it a "major shift" in legislative policy. "The public employees have become the scapegoats' goats," he said.

Karen Ginoza, president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, said there will be political repercussions for the votes.

"Our teachers are very much interested in the electoral process, and we will start looking at the issues of support for education and labor," she said. "They have long memories."

How they voted

Here is how the House and Senate passed Senate Bill 1044, which would establish a single public employee health insurance fund:

House: Passed 38-13


Reps. Felipe P. Abinsay Jr., Lei Ahu Isa, Dennis A. Arakaki, Emily J. Auwae, Benjamin C. Cabreros, Ed Case, Jerry L. Chang, Charles Kong Djou, Willie C. Espero, Galen Fox, Nestor R. Garcia, Joe Gomes, Helene H. Hale, Eric G. Hamakawa, Ken Ito, Michael P. Kahikina, Ezra R. Kanoho, Bertha C. Kawakami, Marilyn B. Lee, Sylva J. Luke, Michael Y. Magaoay, Barbara Marumoto, Bob McDermott, Colleen R. Meyer, Hermina M. Morita, Mark Moses, Bob Nakasone, Blake K. Oshiro, Marcus R. Oshiro, Jim Rath, Scott Saiki, Calvin K.Y. Say, Brian Schatz, Nathan Suzuki, Dwight Y. Takamine, Paul Whalen, Nobu Yonamine, Terry Nui Yoshinaga.


Reps. Kika Bukoski, Ron Davis, Chris Halford, Ken Hiraki, Mindy Jaffe, Bertha F.K. Leong, Guy P. Ontai, David A. Pendleton, Joseph Souki, Bud Stonebraker, K. Mark Takai, Roy M. Takumi, Cynthia Thielen.

Senate: Passed 13-12


Sens. Jan Yagi Buen, Robert Bunda, Jonathan Chun, J. Kalani English, Colleen Hanabusa, Lorraine R. Inouye, Donna Mercado Kim, Russell Kokubun, David M. Matsuura, Bob Nakata, Norman Sakamoto, Sam Slom, Brian T. Taniguchi.


Sens. Avery B. Chumbley, Suzanne Chun Oakland, Carol Fukunaga, Fred Hemmings, Bob Hogue, David Y. Ige, Les Ihara Jr., Brian Kanno, Cal Kawamoto, Matt Matsunaga, Ron Menor, Rod Tam.

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