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The Honolulu Advertiser
Updated at 11:07 a.m., Tuesday, April 17, 2001

State, faculty union expect marathon negotiations today

By Rod Ohira and Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Staff Writers

University faculty negotiator J.N. Musto arrived for negotiations at the Federal Building today expecting a long day of bargaining over a new University of Hawai'i contract.

Heading into today's meeting with the state's chief negotiator, Davis Yogi, and federal mediator Ken Kawamoto, which started more than 40 minutes late, Musto likened the mood of talks so far to that of a frustrated traveler.

"It's like sitting in a small airport learning your flight has been canceled," Musto said. "Hopefully, today we can get out. If not, we're taking another airline."

Yogi, too, did not indicate there was any possibility an agreement could be hammered out today.

"Mediation has been helpful, because Kawamoto has been concentrating on strategic issues," Yogi said. "I think the parties have always been willing to give and take, but it comes to a point where we reach an obstacle. Some of these obstacles are in principles, some are in money."

With nearly two weeks of instruction already lost and the end of the school year weeks away, University of Hawai'i President Kenneth Mortimer yesterday expressed confidence the semester would be salvaged.

The UH administration has developed scenarios to deal with an end to the faculty strike and resumption of all classes without having to issue tuition refunds or have students lose credits for the semester, Mortimer said. "We remain steadfast in our resolve to carry out this semester's work."

Plans for the completion of the semester are being kept under wraps, but to avoid an extension of the semester or loss of class days, the state and faculty union must settle today or tomorrow, and the university must add weekend classes to its calendar.

Yogi and faculty negotiators met with Kawamoto today on the remaining, most contentious issues: an across-the-board pay increase, the workload at the community colleges and a salary increase for lecturers, the lowest-paid of UH faculty members.

"It could be a long (session)," said James Heasley, an astronomy professor at UH-Manoa and member of the UHPA bargaining team. "It's not just one thing, it's the whole entire package we have to look at. I have no idea whether we will settle tomorrow or not. They said they were willing to work all day, so that's encouraging."

Although more people cross the picket line each day, participation in the strike has eroded only slightly. Yesterday 81 percent at Manoa honored the picket line, 92 percent at Hilo and 93 percent at the community colleges and West O'ahu.

The strike has disrupted classes for about 45,000 students. Faculty members missed their first full paycheck Friday.

The state said it could not process payroll quickly enough for April 2-4, the days immediately before the strike, and instead will pay professors for those days April 30.

However, UH is floating loans worth $1.5 million for those three days' salary to professors who want to return the money later.

Stephen Fleming, an instructor in technology for foreign language education at Manoa, took the loan and will live off of that and his savings before selling stock.

"I'm eating up my savings," Fleming said. "I'm willing to do it. I really believe this is about the future of the university and our ability to hire people."

The length of the strike could give Gov. Ben Cayetano the savings he has sought from a "payroll lag" resisted by the faculty union.

UHPA was the only union in the mid-1990s to refuse to go along with the governor's plan, which gradually delayed the twice-monthly payday for state workers for a one-time savings.

UHPA took the state to court over the issue and won. The state had to develop one payroll system for the university and another for other state workers.

Faculty members had been on strike seven days yesterday. Combined with the three days of pay the state had already lagged to the end of the month, the savings equals two weeks, a $6.2 million pay period for the university.