[ OUR OPINION ]
Keep state labor contracts
away from arbitrators
STATE legislators beholden to public employee unions undoubtedly are keeping campaign promises in pushing a bill that would restore mandatory arbitration of state and county labor contracts. The arbitration process that was discarded two years ago is much to blame for the sorry condition of the state's budget. Governor Lingle can be relied upon to protect the budget from union excesses by vetoing the measure, as she should.
THE ISSUEThe state Legislature is considering a measure that would return mandatory arbitration of government labor contracts.
The unions gladly forfeited most of their members' right to strike in the 1980s in return for an arbitration process that virtually assured them large wage increases. Union negotiators found that they could take inflexible positions and rely on arbitration panels to take decision-making powers away from elected officials. Former Gov. Ben Cayetano was forced to cut funding for programs for the poor and disadvantaged so government workers could receive raises approved by arbitrators.
Civil service reforms enacted by the 2001 Legislature restored the right to strike for most state and county employees, leaving state nurses, firefighters, police officers and prison guards as the only public employees with arbitrated contracts. State contracts are due to expire by July, and Lingle has said the state cannot afford pay hikes for most employees.
The current contract for the 24,500 members of the Hawaii Government Employees Association provided 15 percent pay raises over a four-year period, just as the state was trying to recover from the economic slump of the 1990s. Ted Hong, Lingle's chief labor negotiator, says the state's bargaining position has not been supported in arbitration for 20 years.
Arbitration is a useful method of resolving labor-management disputes in the private sector, where arbitrators are made aware of the employer's financial condition. When applied to labor-government contracts, the process is easily abused when arbitrators treat taxes as an unlimited source of revenue to satisfy unions' wage demands. That has been the scenario.
The chemistry of such negotiations changes when the unions are unable to disregard management positions taken by the democratically elected governor and Legislature, who are required by the state Constitution to balance the state's budget. Democrats have been in the pocket of Hawaii's public employees unions for decades. The party-line votes on a proposed return to mandatory arbitration indicates that has not changed.
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womens golf elite
MICHELLE Wie is busy this weekend. The 13-year-old Punahou eighth-grader scored well enough in the first two rounds of the Kraft Nabisco Championship, one of the four majors on the LPGA tour, to make the cut and compete in weekend play. Golf enthusiasts recognize that as an enormous achievement for someone so young, but they are not surprised. Michelle has been garnering attention on the women's circuit on a par with that paid to Tiger Woods in his amateur days.
THE ISSUEAnother first in women's golf has been accomplished by 13-year-old Michelle Wie.
A year ago, Michelle became the youngest player ever to gain entry to an LPGA event, the Takefuji Classic in Waikoloa, through a pre-tournament qualifying round. She played in three tour events last year but missed the weekend cut each time. At Rancho Mirage, Calif., yesterday, she became the youngest ever to make the cut in a major, scoring 2 over par for the 36 holes. Too young to play on Punahou's varsity golf team, Michelle has accepted invitations this year to play in six LPGA tour events -- the maximum allowed an amateur.
No little girl, the 6-footer can power a drive farther than 300 yards and averages 285, distances well beyond those of many men on the PGA tour. Michelle doesn't discriminate in the competition she seeks, making the cut last month in the Hawaii Pearl Open, a men's professional tournament. Playing in a men's event "is just the same because to me it is just a tournament; the course is just longer," she explains.
"Wow, she's got some swing," Se Ri Pak, a frequent winner on the LPGA tour, told The New York Times this week. "It looks like she's got some game, too. I can't say exactly, but I can see that she's going to be a really good player."
Pak and other stars on the tour may be relieved that Michelle doesn't plan to challenge them on a regular basis any time soon. She won't qualify to compete on tour full-time until she turns 18 and expects to postpone her professional debut even longer.
"She still wants to go to college first, definitely, no question about it," says father and caddie B.J. Wie, a University of Hawaii professor of transportation. "Even when she graduates high school and if she receives endorsement deals, that's not going to change her mind."
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