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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 2:27 p.m., Wednesday, April 4, 2001

Teachers on verge of walking

 •  Nonunion UH lecturers face dilemma
 •  Companies prepare for strike
 •  Ghosts of 1973 strike loom before walkout
 •  Q&A: Strike basics
 •  Child care alternatives for parents
 •  Preps preparing for walkout
 •  Special: The Teacher Contract Crisis
 •  Share your ideas and resources on child care during a strike

By Brandon Masuoka and Alice Keesing
Advertiser Staff Writers

With only hours to go before a strike, the chances of a settlement between the state and public school teachers is unlikely.

"We're headed for a strike unless something unexpected happens today," said Joan Husted, Hawai'i State Teachers Association executive director. "The parties are very far apart. We're not getting any closer. We really think that we owe it to the community to keep trying. I'm not at all optimistic."

The union and the state met for 10 hours yesterday, bargaining late into the night. Negotiations were scheduled to resume at 3 p.m. today at HSTA headquarters.

The state Department of Education said it will release a statement later today advising parents whether schools will be open tomorrow. A time had not been set for the statement, but the department said it would be released in time for the late TV news. The department's strike hotline is activated and will be updated throughout the day. The number is 586-4636.

"We're running short on time, but there is time to settle," Husted said. "I've been doing this for more than 30 years and I've settled more than one contract when the sun was coming up. We told the state we need to settle before 12:01 a.m. Thursday or we're walking. I personally believe the kids in this state are worth every amount of energy to get this thing settled."

Gov. Ben Cayetano was not available for comment this morning on the status of negotiations.

Husted said the union has just about finished nonmonetary issues such as accountability and a new evaluation system, but said the two sides remain far apart on pay.

"The sticking point is still salary," Husted said. "The money on the table is not enough to get to a settlement at this point."

Husted characterized negotiations as tiring, "very serious, very intense" and said both parties understand the enormity of the responsibility.

Husted said teachers remain committed to a strike if necessary and that they held picket captain training yesterday.

HSTA gained a legal victory yesterday that cleared the way for a strike.

The Hawai'i Labor Relations Board yesterday dismissed two complaints filed against the union by the state.

In making its ruling, the board blasted both sides for appearing to take Hawai'i's schools hostage. But it said it found no evidence that the union has bargained in bad faith, as the state had charged. It also dismissed the state's complaint over union plans to photograph anyone crossing the picket line.

The state attorney general's office does not intend to appeal the ruling, and HSTA President Karen Ginoza said that clears the way for a strike.

"The court has ruled that we have bargained in good faith all the way through, and so we are prepared," Ginoza said. "Our teachers are firm in their conviction that we must have a good contract."

Contract negotiations have been deadlocked for months, with the governor saying the state does not have the money to give teachers the raise they want.

A strike by nearly 13,000 public school teachers at the same time 3,000 University of Hawai'i and community college faculty walk off the job threatens to cripple the state's public education system and send parents scrambling for child care.

The state made a counterproposal to the union yesterday, but neither side would discuss the details.

Husted said the ruling from the labor relations board put the union in a stronger position. The union had expected to lose the case after a grueling hearing on the complaints last week.

"I firmly believe (the state) thought they were going to stop the strike, so now the pressure is renewed," Husted said. "I expect to see, hopefully, some scrambling going on here. It's been a great frustration of ours, the time it's taking to respond."

The state's full negotiating team participated in talks yesterday for the first time since November, Husted said.

But in her written ruling, labor relations board member Kathleen Racuya-Markrich said the union should not see the dismissal of the complaints as a victory.

"For, in a strike, there are no winners," Racuya-Markrich wrote. "The damage to the work-force morale takes years to mend. ... The teachers' commitment to improve the quality of public education inevitably must include concessions to the employer's professional development proposals and not just the multimillion-dollar bottom line."

The board also took both sides to task for their entrenched positions.

"Both sides have been wedded to their version of the moral, and public relations, high ground," wrote board chairman Brian Nakamura. "And both sides appear to have almost flippantly dismissed the objectives and proposals of their bargaining partners. Both sides act somewhat as though they have taken our schools hostage and are prepared to begin sacrificing hostages unless they achieve their objectives."

However, the board shot down what the state had called its "most damning" evidence of bad-faith bargaining by the union. The state had based much of its complaint on a comment by Ginoza during a television interview in March that she had not "broken down" the state's most recent offer, which already had been rejected.

The board said Ginoza's response showed "intransigence and flippancy," but not a lack of desire to reach an agreement.

State Attorney General Earl Anzai said he was surprised and disappointed by the ruling.

"It's just like in football, they found that they dropped the ball but they're not going to call it a fumble," he said. Anzai said the process is now up to the negotiators.

"Bargaining will go on, and if it doesn't and they don't like it, then a strike is inevitable," he said.

In other developments:

• The Board of Education again deferred a decision on the governor's request that striking teachers be declared on "unauthorized leave of absence without pay" and their health benefits put on hold. Board Chairman Herb Watanabe said it's unclear if the board has the authority to order the release of the money for health benefits, which is under the purview of the Department of Budget and Finance.

• At the Legislature, House Speaker Calvin Say and Senate President Robert Bunda said they hope "cooler heads prevail" in both the HSTA and UHPA negotiations.