By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Staff Writer
University of Hawaii faculty will call for a strike vote in March and could walk off their 10 campuses by April 2 if the state refuses to negotiate a salary increase in good faith, union members said yesterday.
Hundreds of faculty members gathered in front of UH-Manoas Bachman Hall carrying signs, cheering the words of their union leaders and chanting, "Contract, contract, contract" under the windows of the administrations offices.
It was a show of unity and force. While they say they want to avoid a strike, many faculty members believe the only way Gov. Ben Cayetano will take their requests seriously is if they bring the university system to a halt this semester.
"Its been over two years, and our patience is starting to go out," said accounting professor John Wendell. "I lost a colleague to the Mainland because he was offered $50,000 more at another university. There is a limit. If I cant even get a 3 percent-a-year raise, what am I going to do?"
The faculty have been without a contract since 1999 and have not had a salary increase since 1998. Talk among faculty has turned toward a strike since negotiations between the state and union broke off in November.
J.N. Musto, executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, said professors will try to mitigate the impact of the strike for students, but cannot wait until Cayetanos term ends in two years to get a contract. "We will not allow the legislative session to expire without taking up the issue of the University of Hawaii," Musto shouted to the crowd. "We are not just discretionary spending."
The faculty union is seeking a 14.9 percent increase over four years, which would allow for some across-the-board raises and the establishment of special funds for merit raises, retention and boosting the salaries of some of the lowest-paid faculty. Faculty members earn from $30,000 to $147,000 a year, he said.
Cayetano said yesterday that he expected the threat of a strike, but said the state wont give raises unless the university improves its efficiency. He has said the state could give a 9 percent increase over two years, but that it would all go toward merit raises for faculty who performed "above average."
"We dont want a strike because the people who get hurt in the end will be the students and the university," he said. "We will not, however, just agree to a contract just to give people pay raises. Those days are over, at least for this administration."
Cayetano said his problem is with the Manoa faculty, who he believes carry a lighter workload than colleagues at other UH campuses. "No one questions the work of the faculty at the community colleges," he said. He also gave no criticism of UH-Hilo or UH-West Oahu.
Joan Peters, associate professor of English at Manoa, said she and her colleagues are worried about the future of the university. "We all work 10 hours a day six days a week because this institution is so important to us," Peters said. "The university really is at a crossroads. We can go two directions. We can become a third- or fourth-rate institution or we can become a first-rate institution."
Jason Coloma, a political science senior from Kauai, said the strike could delay his graduation and entrance into graduate school. "Things are really up in the air," he said. "You cant really make plans for the future." Still, Coloma said he supports the faculty union. What the faculty is asking for is "not much and they deserve it," he said. "Its really unfair to them."
University administrators are making plans to keep the campuses operating during a strike. While there might not be classes to attend, administration offices, dorms, libraries and the campus buildings would remain open.
Lori Nishimura, 20, an elementary education junior from Palolo Valley, wondered what the school would do about tuition refunds if there were a strike. Also, she said summer school usually starts one week after the spring semester; if the faculty went on strike even for a short time it could affect her plans to take summer classes.
But Nishimura also said her professors should receive a raise. "I support it," she said. "I think they deserve it."
Advertiser Staff Writer Robbie Dingeman contributed to this report.
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