Ghosts of 1973 strike loom before walkout
By Alice Keesing and Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writers
"I don't want to strike, but I will if I have to."
That's what teachers are saying with a strike looming tomorrow. And that's what they said nearly 30 years ago before they walked off the job for 13 days, closing schools around the state. It was the first public employee strike in Hawai'i's history.
These days, people are remembering '73. They are remembering the camaraderie as well as the lingering rifts of the picket line.
They are retelling the stories about teachers not invited to colleagues' retirement parties because they crossed the line nearly 30 years ago. And they are remembering how strikers and "scabs" ate on opposite sides of the school cafeteria for years after.
"It is not an activity to take on lightly," said Joan Husted, Hawai'i State Teachers Association Executive Director. "I wouldn't recommend it to anybody if there is another viable alternative. We've had divorces over strikes, we've had bankruptcies over strikes. The feelings are extremely deep."
Because of those deep feelings, the union once endorsed a convicted murderer for the Board of Education rather than a teacher who had crossed the picket line, Husted said.
Nearly 2,000 of Hawai'i's public school teachers have been in the classroom long enough to remember the '73 strike. This time, they say, the words are harsher and the sides are further apart.
It's the same for University of Hawai'i faculty, who also are poised to strike tomorrow.
Susan Dik, a lecturer at Kapi'olani Community College, said she vaguely remembers picketing as a new faculty member in 1983, the first and only time the University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly has struck. But Dik said UH wasn't facing the same kind of crisis it is now in terms of financing, maintenance and morale.
"I think this is more serious," she said.
But there is the same rhetoric between the sides: claims of stalling tactics and misrepresentation of facts, and full-page advertisements laying out the positions.
In 1973, the HSTA was accused of bad-faith bargaining, as it was this year. That time, the charge led to a Circuit Court judge ruling the strike illegal. But the teachers walked anyway and the union was fined $190,000. That amount was later reduced to around $90,000, Husted said.
The HSTA, which won the right to represent Hawai'i's 9,000 teachers just two years before, was also blamed for making key mistakes. The 13-day strike capped a tumultuous two years that left the union broke.
But 28 years later, the HSTA is savvier and stronger. The union has grown from 9,000 to nearly 13,000 teachers. Many politicians, including the governor, anxiously seek its endorsement. And judging by last month's 99 percent strike authorization vote, the HSTA has rallied substantial solidarity among its members.
Both the HSTA and UHPA are drawing on earlier strike experiences. In 1973, the HSTA became the first public employee union to wield its newly won right to strike.
"Nobody could help guide us because nobody had gone through a public employee strike," said Husted, who in 1973 was the union's chief negotiator as she is today.
For the HSTA, the 1973 strike ended when both sides agreed to submit to binding arbitration. The teachers won a 13 percent raise, which was closer to their initial proposal than the state's.
In 1983, about 70 percent of the UH faculty members statewide went on a two-day strike to demonstrate their unhappiness with the slow and tortured pace of collective bargaining.
Negotiations had been stalled for months and the issues then were much the same as now: complaints over pay and working conditions. Then, as now, the governor said it didn't matter what the union wanted because the state simply couldn't afford it.
The two-day strike came and went without a settlement. John Mount, music professor at Manoa, picketed during the 1983 strike and said he was shocked at how much losing two days of pay would impact him. "My eyes are going into this one wide open," Mount said. "I may have to dip into retirement money to pay the mortgage."
Kaleiopu'u Elementary teacher Ellen Yamada also is wondering about her mortgage as she prepares to join the picket line for the second time in her 31-year teaching career.
With a strike just hours away, Yamada is remembering '73. The picket line at her school, Kaimiloa Elementary, was calm, but at neighboring Campbell High School, emotions were high, she said.
"When the cars would cross, they would shake the cars," she said. "It was just really terrible at the high school level. They would shout obscenities and stuff."