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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Tuesday, April 10, 2001

Strike negotiations to resume

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 •  Advertiser special: The Teacher Contract Crisis

By Alice Keesing and Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writers

Negotiators for the state and teachers' union will meet today for their first informal talks since Hawai'i's teachers walked off the job on Thursday.

Employees from Hawaiian Isles Water Company in Mapunapuna, along with HSTA staff, help unload bottles of water the company donated to striking teachers.

Eugene Tanner • The Honolulu Advertiser

With talks still appearing to be mired in confusion and frustration, schools across the state remain closed today, idling 183,000 students and propelling 12,000 teachers into their fourth day on the picket line.

The University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly also is asking the state to return to the bargaining table.

"We have a crisis in public education in Hawai'i and it demands round-the-clock attention," said UHPA Executive Director J.N. Musto. "We should be negotiating right now."

Gov. Ben Cayetano yesterday said he has reverted to his proposal of March 8 for public school teachers, which would drop the state's offer from 14 percent back to 12 percent. The March 8 package concentrated on pay raises in exchange for 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 is unclear what the governor is 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 its 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

Old Stadium Park was a popular destination for Ala Wai School students who met at the park with their parents because of the teachers' strike. From left, Emily Hirayama, 5, Naruya Yata, 6, Kazuho Hirayama, 5, Keith Kodama, 6, sitting, Koki Iwamoto, 6, and Ryutaro Fukumoto, 6 shared rides and snacks with one another. Mothers Kazue Fukumoto, Harumi Iwamoto and Miki Kodama sat in the background.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

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 last two years of the contract — fiscal years 2002 and 2003.

The union yesterday also defended its rejection of the state's 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 beginning of the strike, 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."

Community colleges paralyzed

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

The final stumbling block between UHPA and the state turned out to be salary. The sides are about three 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.

Violet Takushi brought her grandson, Stanton Asao, 6, to the McCully-Mo'ili'ili Public Library so he could keep up with his reading while the teachers at his school, Kuhio Elementary School, are still on strike. Stanton's two sisters, Candice, 13, an eighth grader at Washington Middle, and Paula Anne, 10, a fourth grader at Kuhio Elementary, also visited the library.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

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

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 another relatively peaceful day on the picket lines yesterday. But Assistant Chief Stephen Watarai noted that police did issue three citations to motorists, equalling the total handed out during the first two days of the strike.

Two of the citations were issued at Kapi'olani Community College and the third at the University of Hawaii-Manoa lower campus. Citations written since the strike began involve motorists attempting to get through picket lines at UH campuses, Watarai said.

He said the increase yesterday could be a sign that patience and tempers among strikers and motorists are getting shorter.

"Most of the citations are for protecting the picketers more than anybody else," Watarai said. "I can predict that the longer it goes the more problems we'll have."

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 their enrollments in health and life insurance benefit plans be terminated.
  • UHPA also sued Cayetano and the UH Board of Regents to stop an executive order from Cayetano that threatens to cut off death benefits to family members 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 workers, who would be 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 Curtis Lum and Lynda Arakawa contributed to this report