By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer
The Hawaii State Teachers Association yesterday joined the state in rejecting a fact-finders report recommending a 19 percent raise for teachers, sticking to its demand for a 22 percent raise over four years.
After months of negotiations, the two sides remain far apart. The governor last week said the state is working on a new proposal of about 11 percent an increase on its earlier offer, which averaged 9 percent.
HSTA President Karen Ginoza praised the fact-finding report but said it was unfair to teachers at the top end of the pay scale. "Our most experienced teachers are being told that they must wait another two years before any salary increase," she said.
Teachers earn between $29,000 and $58,000 a year.
While both the state and the teachers union still hold out hope for a peaceful settlement in their deadlocked negotiations, the wheels were set in motion yesterday for a possible strike.
In rejecting the report, the union offered to submit to binding arbitration to settle the drawn-out talks. Going into arbitration would take away the unions right to strike.
But the offer was quickly rejected by the states chief negotiator, Davis Yogi.
"Given what third parties do, I dont have any confidence in the process at this point," he said.
Yogi said the fact-finding process had undermined progress the parties had made. "I believe the panel has done more harm to the bargaining process by creating an unrealistic expectation of an average wage increase of 19 percent for teachers," he wrote.
The failure of the fact-finding process launches the two parties into a 60-day "cooling off" period. Both sides have indicated they will keep talking during that time. The union also can call a strike vote, although teachers cannot go out until the "cooling off" period ends March 17. The union has said a strike is not likely until after spring break, which is in late March.
Emotions running high
Emotions show signs of escalating. Teachers at yesterdays HSTA press conference described the states position as "shortsighted" and "disrespectful."
And while the union wants an equal percentage raise for all teachers, the state is offering a dollar amount, which would give a bigger percentage raise to entry-level teachers an effort to tackle the teacher shortage by boosting recruitment.
However, the union yesterday said its just as important to increase pay at the top end, to ensure that teachers stay on the job. As many as 38 percent of Hawaiis teachers will soon be eligible for retirement, according to the union.
"Then were in for some tough bargaining," Yogi said in response.
At the heart of the dispute is how much the state can afford for pay raises. The union says the state has enough money, which the fact finders clearly agreed with. But the state strongly disputes the panels report.
In his response to the report, Yogi said "the panels recommendations show an obvious failure on the part of the panel to grasp the complexities of the state budget and the legal requirements faced by the state in formulating its financial plan."
Despite the deadlock, both Ginoza and Yogi said they think a settlement is still possible without a strike.
"Teachers dont want to strike," Ginoza said. "We would rather be teaching and helping students learn. A strike is disruptive to all that we are about."
Nevertheless, the wheels are in motion. The union started warning its more than 12,000 teachers to start saving money. Phone contact lists are in place. And later this month, the union will pull some teachers from classrooms to help with strike preparations.
Solomon Elementary teacher Jan Turner believes its getting close to crunch time.
"Based on past experience, it has come right up to the line before," she said. "The last time, we called off the strike within 30 minutes."
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