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The Honolulu Advertiser

Updated at 11:42 a.m., Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Delay in talks angers unions

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By Alice Keesing and Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writers

As state and union officials prepared to meet today for the first negotiations since Hawai'i's public school teachers walked off the job last Thursday, leaders of striking university instructors expressed frustration with Gov. Ben Cayetano and what they describe as the state's cold response to their overtures.

"We call, we call, we call, and they know we're ready to talk, but the government's just too busy," said John Radcliffe, associate executive director of the University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly. "The governor likes to play hardball it's his stock in trade."

Cayetano's spokeswoman, Kim Murakawa, said today that chief state negotiator Davis Yogi was scheduled to meet "soon" with UHPA officials, but provided no details. Yogi did not return calls.

Cayetano said yesterday he would wait for a new offer from UHPA before bargaining. "I think we're at the last offer we made to them," he said. "To my knowledge, they haven't countered."

The public school strike also appeared to be mired in confusion and frustration as schools across the state remained closed today, idling 183,000 students and propelling 12,000 teachers into their fourth day on the picket line.

Cayetano yesterday said he has reverted to his proposal of March 8 for school teachers, which would drop the state's offer from 14 percent back to 12 percent. The March 8 package tied pay raises to teachers' professional development.

"I think the teachers themselves are going to have to decide for themselves what is fair compensation," Cayetano said. "I've said it many times: The state has moved on three different occasions, we've increased our offer. Our last offer was at 14 percent. When you compare that to what the HSTA has proposed ,which is nothing, I think we've been more than accommodating in trying to seek a resolution on this issue."

But the Hawai'i State Teachers Association said it was unclear what the governor was proposing, and expressed frustration about the delayed return to negotiations.

"You would think (the governor) would be burning up the wires trying to get back, so his public school system ... would function, instead of sitting there posturing," said HSTA executive director Joan Husted. "The public school system is closed down, for heaven's sakes, for the first time in the history of the country."

In a continuing show of solidarity, 99 percent of the state's public school teachers were on the picket line yesterday, according to the HSTA.

Money still matters

The biggest hurdle is still money, with the sides $100 million apart. The union is standing firm on its request for raises in all four years of the contract, which expired in June 1999. The state's offer includes money for only the final two years fiscal years 2002 and 2003.

The union also defended its rejection of the 14 percent offer.

"It doesn't mean teachers get 14 percent in their pockets," Husted said. The offer would have given teachers raises of between 10 percent and 16 percent, she said.

Meanwhile, in the first communication between the state and the University of Hawai'i since the strike began, the state's chief negotiator and a UH administrator met yesterday. Talks focused on issues such as intellectual property rights, benefits and community college workload – not pay.

"We're looking at some side issues," said Ed Yuen, director of collective bargaining at UH. "I think the key now is to work on some concepts that might address the union's concerns. That's our common goal."

The final stumbling block between UHPA and the state turned out to be salary. The sides are about 3 percentage points apart on pay issues.

More than 43,000 college students are affected by the UHPA strike. About 17 percent of scheduled classes including those taught by part-time lecturers and others who are not part of UHPA were taught across the UH system yesterday.

The community colleges have been virtually paralyzed, however, with more than 95 percent honoring the picket lines and 6.5 percent of scheduled classes being taught.

About 17 percent of Manoa faculty crossed the picket line to teach, 8 percent at Hilo and 7.3 percent at West O'ahu.

Police reported a relatively peaceful day on the picket lines yesterday. But assistant chief Stephen Watarai noted that police issued three citations to motorists, the total handed out the first two days of the strike. Two were issued at Kapi'olani Community College and the third at Manoa. All the citations involve motorists trying to get through picket lines, he said.

Benefits may be terminated

In other developments:

• The HSTA is taking Cayetano to court and seeking a temporary restraining order to stop him from cutting off health benefits to striking teachers. Cayetano has said striking teachers are on "unauthorized leave without pay" and has ordered that the state no longer contribute to their health and life insurance benefit plans.

• UHPA also sued Cayetano and the UH Board of Regents to stop a directive from Cayetano that threatens to cut off death benefits to families of striking workers.

• The governor has ordered a freeze on travel, hiring and spending for all state departments, which he said is necessary to pay for union raises.

• The Hawai'i Labor Relations Board denied the state's request that the board reconsider its refusal to designate 322 special-education teachers as essential, and required to work during the strike. The board also heard the university's request for more essential workers, mostly in the nursing and dental hygiene programs. No ruling was made.

Advertiser staff writers Johnny Brannon, Curtis Lum and Lynda Arakawa contributed to this report.