UHPA, state to meet today
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By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer
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 that the semester will be salvaged.
"We remain steadfast in our resolve to carry out this semester's work," he said.
Plans for the completion of the semester are being kept under wraps, but to avoid an extension of the semester or the loss of class days, the state and faculty union must settle today or tomorrow and the university must add weekend classes to its calendar.
The state negotiator and University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly officials will meet at 9 a.m. today with a federal mediator to discuss the remaining and most contentious issues still on the table: an across-the-board pay increase, the workload at the community colleges and a salary increase for lecturers, the lowest paid of all UH faculty members.
Mortimer said he believes both sides are committed to resolving the remaining contract issues today.
And today's session could be a marathon.
"It could be a long one," said James Heasley, an astronomy professor at Manoa and a 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, faculty 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 state said it could not process their 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 to professors who want to take it and pay the university back later.
Stephen Fleming, an instructor in technology for foreign language education at Manoa, took the university's loan yesterday 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 an effective "payroll lag" that he has consistently and unsuccessfully sought from the faculty union.
UHPA was the only union in the mid-1990s to refuse to go along with the governor's "pay lag" plan, which gradually delayed the twice-a-month payday for state workers to give the state 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.
Yesterday, faculty members had been out on strike seven full days. Combined with the three days of pay the state has already lagged to the end of the month, it equals two weeks, or a $6.2 million pay period for the university.