HGEA should accept contract


POSTED: Friday, October 16, 2009

Prudent rank-and-file white-collar employees should accept days off without pay in voting that began yesterday on a two-year labor contract with the state and counties. Their union leaders deserve credit for giving members an opportunity to accept work cuts now to prevent steeper reductions triggered by further delay.

Administration and the Hawaii Government Employees Association negotiators reached the tentative agreement on Wednesday covering nearly 30,000 public employees. The contract calls for most employees to take off 18 days this year and 24 days next year without pay. The furloughs are equivalent to a pay cut of 8 percent.

It would be the first time that HGEA members ever have taken reductions in pay. Most of them recognize that further delays would result in more furlough days in order for the state to balance the budget as required by the state Constitution.

The choice is similar to that made three weeks ago by members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, accepting 17 furlough days during this school year and another 17 in the next school year. School principals — wrongly unionized managers — also would be subject to 17 furloughs for each fiscal year under the HGEA package.

Of note is the tentative deal for 2,000 HGEA members who work at the University of Hawaii, who are being asked to accept pay cuts of 7.5 percent for the remainder of the current fiscal year and 5 percent for the next fiscal year, a total dollar amount the same for each of the years. In what has the appearance of furloughs in reverse, they are being offered 13 days with pay each year without having to show up for work on those days. Interesting.

Members of the union for the University of Hawaii's 3,700 faculty rejected by a six-to-one ratio what the administration called its “;last, best, final offer,”; which included a 5 percent pay cut with no furlough days. J.N. Musto, executive director of the UH Professional Assembly, said the private sector should be “;willing to support, through the tax dollars, public programs like universities and high schools and elementary schools.”;

Musto is wrong in suggesting that struggling private sector employees should pay increased taxes to assure public employees' immunity from economic downfalls. Musto denies “;that our faculty are overpaid”; — but no one is making that suggestion.

The United Public Workers union of state and county blue-collar workers has yet to recognize the futility of extending contract talks. The longer negotiations go on, the more furlough days will be added each month within the remaining scope of the contract for the state to avoid busting the budget.

State Senate President Colleen Hanabusa has said a proposed tax increase is on the table to restore pay for state employees. Legislators would be irresponsible to shield state and county workers from the difficulties experienced by private-sector employees during the recession.