Teacher strike still on course
By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer
With the hours ticking down to a statewide teachers strike, negotiators stayed at the bargaining table late last night discussing a new proposal from the state, but a walkout appeared inevitable.
Cory Lum The Honolulu Advertiser
Davis Yogi, chief negotiator for the state, arrives for yesterday's session at HSTA headquarters.
Cory Lum The Honolulu Advertiser
The Hawai'i State Teachers Association and state negotiators were trying to reach an agreement on teacher pay raises on the heels of a legal victory for the union that cleared the way for a strike tomorrow.
HSTA officials said their position was bolstered by yesterday's ruling from the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board, which 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 to a legal 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 news of the ruling arrived during an hours-long meeting between both sides at HSTA headquarters.
The state made a counterproposal to the union yesterday, but neither side would discuss the details.
Late last night, HSTA Executive Director Joan Husted said she was afraid that a strike could not be averted.
"It doesn't look like we're going to be able to get it settled in time to avoid the strike," she said. "I'm personally not very optimistic. I would suggest parents make whatever arrangements they need to make for their youngsters."
|||HSTA negotiations at a glance
The union is seeking a 22 percent raise over four years with a price tag of $260 million, but has informally offered to accept a deal worth about $161 million.
The state's last known offer averages a 12 percent increase, at a total cost of $67 million. It ties in accountability, licensure and includes $5,000 extra a year for teachers who gain national certification.
Teachers currently earn between $29,000 and $58,000.
The issues: The union says Hawai'i is facing a teacher shortage crisis and the state needs to improve pay to boost recruitment and retention. The state says its offer does boost pay for new teachers, but it has only a limited amount of money and wants to tie any pay raise to improving performance.
The Hawai'i State Teachers Association represents nearly 13,000 public school teachers statewide.
Hawai'i's teachers' contract expired in June 1999.
In the last round of contract talks in 1997, teachers were within hours of striking when a deal was reached. That contract provided a 17 percent increase but added seven days to the school calendar.
The last time teachers walked off the job was April 1973. That strike lasted 13 days.
She said the ruling from the labor relations board does 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.
"We ask all parties involved in the negotiations to be mindful of the impact their actions are having on the community, and to spare no effort in expediting fair and meaningful resolution of the outstanding issues," the two said in a joint statement.
Say, D-18th (Palolo-St. Louis-Kaimuki), and Bunda, D-22nd (Wahiawa-Waialua-Sunset Beach) said they planned to allow lawmakers with children in public schools to bring their children to work if there is a strike.
The Cayetano administration proposed a new furlough program Monday that would give the administration authority to place workers on unpaid leave if necessary to save money.
James Halvorson, deputy director of the state Department of Human Resources Development, said the furlough mechanism would give the administration a tool other than layoffs to help cut costs and make money available for public worker raises.
The House Finance Committee deferred action on the proposal, and it isn't clear yet whether lawmakers will agree to a furlough program.
The state asked the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board to reconsider its denial of 322 "essential workers." The state said it needs 322 special-education teachers to provide services for disabled children during a strike.
Advertiser staff writers Curtis Lum, Kevin Dayton and Ronna Bolante contributed to this report.