[ OUR OPINION ]
Labor shows power
in protecting principals
LABOR-controlled majorities on two state House committees have killed a proposal that public school principals be excluded from collective bargaining privileges. Opponents of the proposal put forth the absurd argument that such an exclusion would violate the state Constitution. Simple legislation is all that's needed to treat principals appropriately as managers, ineligible for union representation.
THE ISSUETwo House committees have refused to advance a proposal that would deny union representation of public school principals.
Former Gov. Ben Cayetano proposed throughout his two terms that principals should not be in a labor union, and Governor Lingle agreed with that position during her campaign last year. This newspaper has long held that school principals are managers that don't belong in a union. They should be paid better and be made accountable for the performance of their schools, not protected by a union from the consequences of their failures.
In presiding over the death of Lingle's proposal last week, Rep. Marcus Oshiro, chairman of the House Labor Committee, maintained that Hawaii's Constitution provides "any public employee" the right "to organize and be represented in collective bargaining," and that her proposal would violate that right. That assertion is ridiculous; labor leaders know it and so should Oshiro.
The state Constitution guarantees public employees the right to collective bargaining "as provided by law." That phrase refers to "a well-recognized meaning (of collective bargaining) in pre-existing federal and state statutes" prior to the 1968 Constitutional Convention and with civil case law, according to public employee unions. The unions offered that legal analysis in their successful assault on the Legislature's attempt to freeze their members' wages four years ago.
Circuit Judge Virginia Crandall interpreted that in 2000 to mean the Legislature "has wide authority to set the parameters for collective bargaining" involving public employees but not to the extent of freezing wages. Excerpts from her ruling, upheld last December by the Supreme Court, are posted on the Web site of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the principals' union.
Those parameters, Crandall ruled, include "setting forth the bargaining units." Indeed, state law lists not only the categories of state and county employees entitled to union representation and but those that are not entitled. The numerous categories excluded from union representation range from elected or appointed officials to legislative staff and employees of the governor and lieutenant governor, including the governor's household help.
Also among those denied union representation are "top-level managerial and administrative personnel." Exclusion of school principals from that managerial status was coerced in the drafting of a 1970 law that exempted essential workers from the right to strike. The principals' protective treatment continues to have everything to do with public-employee unions' political muscle and nothing to do with the Constitution.
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