Don’t make bus
raises automatic


Mayor Harris said he is considering making the bus system a county operation with binding arbitration of employees' contracts.

HONOLULU bus riders have endured several days of inconvenience, but a greater threat comes from politicians' remarks about averting future bus company strikes through guaranteed pay raises for workers. Mayor Harris talks of making bus workers public employees, complete with contracts approved by union-friendly arbitrators. The result would be automatic pay and benefit increases for bus workers, financed by tax and fare hikes not open for negotiation -- a neat system that would let the mayor and City Council off the hook.

On the very first day of the strike, Harris said the city was evaluating a variety of alternatives for dealing with future bus labor issues, one of which "would be to make it a public system, not a privatized system." One of the advantages of doing that, he said, would be that the bus workers' pay demands could become subject to binding arbitration. Under that system, unions have found that if they propose raises twice what they want, arbitrators will give them half of what they propose.

Here is the way that works, as described last month by Ted Hong, the state's chief negotiator: "We just had one union that asked for a 40 percent (pay) increase and ended up getting 20 percent over four years. They knew they would get something in the middle, and they did."

Said Harris: "If the bus came under the same conditions, then obviously there would not be the possibility of a strike." Of course not. Bus workers would be crazy to go on strike if they are guaranteed the kind of contract they want -- taxpayers and bus riders be damned.

City Council Chairman Gary Okino said making TheBus public is "worth exploring." Councilman Charles Djou, recognizing the fiscal ramifications of binding arbitration, said he is skeptical.

Binding arbitration is intended to prevent strikes by public employees considered vital to the public's health and safety. In enacting civil service reforms, the 2001 Legislature restored the right to strike to most state and county employees while leaving state nurses and prison guards and county police and firefighters with arbitrated contracts. Then-Gov. Ben Cayetano had asked for the reforms, having been forced to cut funding of programs for the poor and disadvantaged in order to pay for raises approved by arbitrators.

The Hawaii Government Employees Association orchestrated passage of a bill by this year's Legislature to restore binding arbitration for 24,500 members who work for the state and counties. Governor Lingle vetoed the bill, and labor-beholden legislators obediently overrode her veto.

In pointing out the possibility of turning over TheBus operation to the city along with binding arbitration for bus workers, Harris said, "I'm not advocating that, but I'm saying that's one of the futures that is possible." Remarks like that should make taxpayers and bus riders nervous.



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