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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted at 10:45 a.m., Tuesday, April 17, 2001

Union: Delay in talks dragging out teacher strike

By Rod Ohira
Advertiser Staff Writer

Despite a "positive move" by Gov. Ben Cayetano, a Hawai'i public school teachers union negotiator said the lack of continuity in bargaining with the state is contributing to the lack of progress in settling a strike that is 13 days old today.

"Although he has not conceded who will ultimately pay, it was a positive and appropriate move on the governor's part," Hawai'i State Teachers Association Executive Director Joan Husted said today of Cayetano's decision to continue health benefits to striking teachers.

But nearly seven hours of talks yesterday with a federal mediator "wasn't very productive," Husted said.

The union wanted to resume talks today but Davis Yogi, the state's chief negotiator, has a session scheduled with the striking University of Hawai'i faculty union. Yogi's schedule has become a problem, Husted said.

"Because of his schedule, we can't meet again until Wednesday afternoon," Husted said. "He's meeting with UHPA and (the Hawai'i Government Employees Association) today and has his own department (Human Resources) to run.

"So it means it will be at least two more days that students won't be going to school and that is troubling for us," she added. "We can't keep schools closed while we wait for the state's negotiator to come back to the bargaining table. We can't make progress if we're not meeting."

The union wants Cayetano to add another negotiator. "There are other people in town," Husted said.

But Yogi said today he doesn't think another mediator is needed. "I don't think it's a problem," Yogi said. "They (HSTA) should realize I'm not the issue and allocate time to focus on what Judge Ezra has said. They have to use their time carefully to get the job done. We hope that's the area of focus because we don't have a lot of time.

"We think we have a fair package being offered," Yogi said.

Federal Judge David Ezra has warned the state and the union risk a federal court takeover of the school system if the strike is not settled by Friday. Ezra said he would step in if the strike was negatively affecting the state's efforts to comply with the Felix consent decree.

Husted said union officials have heard reports that the strike would last two weeks.

"We've heard that from three reliable sources," she added. "I don't know why people would say that if the governor hadn't said it to them.

"We've heard that he wanted teachers to miss one paycheck, that they have to hurt financially and they have to know what striking is all about. If that's true, one can expect a settlement by the end of the week."

But Yogi said he had heard no such comments. "We want to settle as soon as we can. What's been difficult is that we're $100 million apart."

The teachers and state are negotiating a four-year deal covering 1999-2003

Husted said of the 12,500 teachers on strike, 134 crossed picked lines last Thursday. "There were 130 yesterday so four stayed out," she added. "In most strikes after two weeks, more people begin trickling in but I think yesterday's numbers show how much the teachers are committed."