Nonunion UH lecturers face dilemma
By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer
A statewide faculty strike expected to start at midnight tonight would leave more than 43,000 students stranded and place hundreds of part-time, nonunion lecturers in the awkward position of crossing a picket line manned by their colleagues.
The University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly and state negotiators are scheduled to meet with a federal mediator at 8:30 a.m. today in an attempt to reach a contract settlement and avert a strike.
But negotiations remained deadlocked after yesterday's session, with no new offers from either side, said Davis Yogi, the governor's chief negotiator.
"I think that we were productive, but it's hard to say," Yogi said. "I think there's just greater understanding."
Alex Malahoff, president of the faculty union, said both sides are discussing the "stopping points" that have kept them from reaching an agreement.
While the faculty union and state have been close for weeks on the numbers for pay increases, the broader issues of workload and benefits have emerged as major stumbling blocks.
Also, the UH Board of Regents asked the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board to declare 31 additional UHPA members mostly Cancer Research Center professors and people from the school of nursing and dental hygiene as essential workers who would be required to work during a strike.
UHPA plans to oppose the measure, although the labor board hearing has not yet been set. About 100 doctors who oversee medical school residents have already been declared essential workers.
More than 3,180 members of UHPA are set to walk off the job. But faculty members who teach less than half time will face disciplinary action if they honor the strike.
More than 720 non-UHPA faculty members would be required to continue teaching during a strike, although some have indicated they may cancel their classes or tell students they will not be penalized if they skip class.
Susan Dik, a business education lecturer at Kapi'olani Community College, plans to honor the picket line. She also refused to work during the 1983 faculty strike and still has a disciplinary note placed in her record because of it.
"I'm making it part of my calendar: Thursday we go on strike," Dik said. "I think the salaries have been low for way too long. I really do appreciate what UHPA is doing for the lecturers. I think teachers are drastically underpaid and very much overworked. The pay is so bad, the respect, the way we are treated as teachers it was not a difficult decision for me to make."
Dik isn't sure if other part-time lecturers will make the same decision she has, though. If they cross the picket lines, they could anger their colleagues, but if they don't teach they could lose their positions, she said.
"They are conflicted. They're in a precarious situation," she said. "You're damned if you do and damned if you don't. You have to follow your heart. Either way is going to be right or wrong."
Excluded from bargaining
In the UH system, 189 faculty and 534 lecturers who teach less than half time are excluded from the UHPA bargaining unit.
Graduate teaching assistants many of whom help professors with research projects, teach laboratory and discussion sessions or help in the classroom will also be expected to show up for work. The estimated 800 graduate assistants are not unionized and their salary is not set by UHPA collective bargaining, but they work alongside university professors.
Peter Vroom, a graduate assistant in botany, said he has already received word that he is expected to be at work. "It's going to be kind of an awkward situation," he said. "Personally, I'm a research assistant, so I don't have to worry about the classroom aspect. I can essentially go on with my duties, but there won't be any supervision."
Other graduate assistants who help teach classes should be available if students need help with semester projects and final papers, Vroom said.
The university plans to keep dorms, cafeterias, libraries and other buildings open during a strike, but the potential disruption to coursework remains unclear. The university has already told students they should expect to encounter mass picketing tomorrow and Friday and should allow for extra time to reach campus.
While the university has told students to go to class to see if their professors show up, UHPA members are asking students to stay away from campus during a strike.
Sally Pestana, a member of the UHPA executive committee and an associate professor at Kapi'olani Community College, said students are encouraged to honor the picket lines in an attempt to make the campus as deserted as possible.
"What we've told the students all along is the way to keep a strike short is to make it seem crippling by staying away from campus," she said. "Please don't cross the line."
David Cleeveland, sociology professor at Honolulu Community College, said part-time lecturers may be asked to enter campus through a back entrance where they won't be as visible. "We have, at least at HCC, tried to deal very straightforwardly with them," Cleeveland said. "They are required to come to work, and we would expect that the faculty will part the picket lines right away for them."
Carrying white flag
Kalani Fujiwara, a lecturer at Honolulu Community College who teaches two political science classes this semester, said many lecturers will join the picket lines after they finish teaching their classes.
Fujiwara, who is not protected by UHPA during a strike, said he doesn't feel like he has a choice in continuing to teach during a strike.
"In terms of survival, one has to cross the line," Fujiwara said. "We have to do what is necessary."
Fujiwara has told his students that his class will have to continue through a strike. His full-time colleagues have been supportive, though, he said.
"They understand our situation," Fujiwara said. "We're carrying the white flag. Don't shoot at us."
Although part-time lecturers do not have the right to strike, UHPA does negotiate their salaries. The union is seeking pay raises for the lecturers, while the governor's office so far has proposed no increases for the lecturers.
"We're supportive of our colleagues," Fujiwara said. "We're preparing. Everybody is unified."
The union and the state have reached an impasse over issues of pay, workload and benefits, and talks have been stalled for months.