Wednesday, January 31, 2001
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Posted on: Wednesday, January 31, 2001

UH wage pact must not harm autonomy

At this point, the bluster between the University of Hawaii faculty union and Gov. Ben Cayetano is basically that — bluster.

The faculty has delivered word that it may strike on April 2 — close to the end of the second semester and just around the close of the Legislature — if the state fails to negotiate a salary raise in good faith.

The best hope for the UH faculty is to align themselves with other unions, particularly the public-school teachers, in their pay fight with the state. Like it or not, the threat of a schoolteacher strike would have much greater impact on the public and lawmakers than that of a university faculty strike alone.

By any measurement, the faculty is due for an increase. They have not had a general pay hike since 1998 and have been without a contract since 1999. Hardly a day goes by without news that another faculty member has reluctantly pulled up stakes to move to the Mainland, where pay and working conditions are better.

This cannot go on. The Legislature and the governor have recognized the importance of the University of Hawaii to the state’s social and economic progress. That cannot happen with a demoralized, underpaid faculty.

The faculty proposes a four-year contract that works out to about a 14.9 percent increase, parceled out between across-the-board raises, merit raises and other inducements. Cayetano says the state cannot afford that much.

He is talking about a 9 percent raise over two years. In truth, the two are not that far apart when one considers that the governor is looking at two years, the faculty four.

But the governor threw red meat before the faculty with his quote that "We will not just agree to a contract just to give people pay raises. Those days are over, at least for this administration."

The governor also said he wants whatever money is awarded to be used strictly as merit pay for faculty whose work is above average.

By whose definition?

The university has worked hard to achieve fiscal and management autonomy — the ability to manage its own affairs. The governor’s proposal is a serious step backward on this front.

It is crucial that the university — not the Legislature or the governor — decide how its salary resources are allocated. Merit pay and reward for exceptional work are good ideas, but they are not ones that should be directed from Downtown.

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