Thursday, June 7, 2001

City & County of Honolulu

Council holds up
funding for union
compensation plan

The UPW director says such a
move could lead to a strike

By Gordon Y.K. Pang

City officials say they are being cautious by holding up funding for a proposed deferred-compensation plan for blue-collar workers.

But Gary Rodrigues, the state director of the 12,000-member United Public Workers union, said the move jeopardizes the contracts reached with the state and four counties, and the consequence could be a statewide strike.

The City Council's Budget Committee yesterday moved a resolution basically approving the terms of the agreements reached with UPW units 1 and 10.

The measure, however, includes a proviso that would defer release of about $1 million to the union earmarked for its deferred-compensation plan until the Hawaii Labor Relations Board or a judge determines if the plan is legal.

The city on May 21 filed a complaint with the Labor Board questioning if the fund was a feature that could have been negotiated legally by the union and government. The board will hear the case June 22.

"The City Council's position is that we want a court to determine if it's legal or not," said city Corporation Counsel David Arakawa. "Our expert attorneys have said it's not legal."

Council Budget Chairman Steve Holmes said state laws call for there to be only one retirement system for Hawaii government workers, thus calling into question the creation of a separate one by the UPW.

Separately, he said, state statutes appear to say retirement benefits are not negotiable as part of collective bargaining.

The union, however, believes deferred compensation is a form of wage that is negotiable, and has pointed to unused disability, vacation and sick leave as examples.

"If you don't stay until retirement, you take out what you have in the account when you leave," Rodrigues said. "It's wages."

The union agreed to the 1 percent increase in wages on a deferred basis so Gov. Ben Cayetano could maintain his base offer of 11 percent pay raises to all public employees, Rodrigues said.

He said he has asked for a negotiation session with the city next week to discuss the issue.

"If they still maintain their position, we must look at our options," Rodrigues said. "And there is only one option."

He said if the Council rejects the funding for the new compensation program, it constitutes a rejection of the UPW's contract with the four counties and the state.

Based on such a rejection, the union members who authorized a strike during stalled contract talks last October could walk off the job, he said.

Council Chairman Jon Yoshimura was undaunted by Rodrigues' threat.

"What we have is a dispute," Yoshimura said. "Let's not make it a war because of one person's ego."

Rodrigues said the other counties and the state accepted the deferred-compensation plan, but Arakawa pointed out that the attorneys for all four counties sought an opinion from the state.

Hawaii County Council Chairman James Arakaki agreed that he would like to know if the plan is legal.

Davis Yogi, the state's chief negotiator, said that putting in the deferred-compensation feature "was appropriate when we did it, and we still think it's appropriate."

Deputy Attorney General Kathleen Watanabe said the state's position is that the negotiated contracts are legal.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

City & County of Honolulu

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