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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, April 18, 2001

UH strike over; some classes resume today

Stalemate continues in HSTA strike
 •  Special report: The Teacher Contract Crisis

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Some 45,000 students and 3,200 faculty members will return to University of Hawai'i campuses this morning after marathon negotiations yesterday ended a strike that had virtually paralyzed the state's only public system of higher education.

Students are encouraged to go to classes today, but the full schedule will officially resume tomorrow to give everyone time to hear about the settlement. The agreement will send professors and students scrambling to salvage the school year and brings a close to what is regarded as one of the most tumultuous and difficult semesters the troubled university has endured.

John Radcliffe, associate executive director of the University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly, presented Gov. Ben Cayetano with a modified "off strike" T-shirt at the announcement that UHPA had settled with the state. At left is UHPA President Alexander Malahoff.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser.

The settlement between the governor and the University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly gives professors 10 percent raises over two years: a 4 percent raise in the first year and 6 percent in the second year. The contract also calls for a possible 2 percent merit raise through a system to be developed by the union and the incoming UH president.

The deal addresses the workload at community colleges and a pay raise for lecturers — the most emotional and contentious issues of the negotiations — and represents a middle ground for the two sides. Before the strike, the union had asked for a 13 percent package and the state had offered 11 percent.

Gov. Ben Cayetano called the contract, developed after a 12-hour negotiating session yesterday, a "win for the faculty, the university, and a win for the state as well."

The agreement ends a 13-day walkout, the longest in the university's history. Although professors still need to vote to ratify the final contract, the UH is poised to resume its regular class schedule for the first time since faculty members walked off the job April 5.

Even with some classes resuming today, students — at least at the Manoa campus — will have to attend Saturday and Sunday classes every week to make the May 13 commencement date. Administration officials have not yet released a calendar of weekend classes but are finalizing one.

Faculty union members demanding better wages and working conditions hit the picket lines for only the second time in the history of the statewide system. UHPA members last struck Nov. 21-22, 1983. But that strike was a weak signal in comparison to this one. Then, the union announced the two-day strike would be a show of force to demonstrate its unhappiness with the slow, tortured pace of negotiations. About 30 percent of the faculty members crossed the picket lines. The faculty union, as along with other public employee unions, secured a 5 percent pay increase and a better benefits package in 1984.

This time, participation remained at 86 percent systemwide even as of yesterday. At the community colleges, participation was so high that those campuses remained virtually closed and even some non-UHPA faculty members refused to teach their classes. At the flagship Manoa campus, picket-line turnout started at 90 percent and dipped to 81 percent yesterday.

The walkout coincided with the strike by Hawai'i's 13,000 public school teachers, which is ongoing, and marked the first time in U.S. history that labor unions have shut down an entire state system of public education.

An end to the strike diverts a potential disaster for the university semester, which many people predicted could not be salvaged if the strike lasted through Friday. Although the administration never released its "drop dead" dates, most professors talked about the middle or end of the week as the time beyond which they would have to give students incompletes for the semester.

When the strike started, many students and faculty members thought it would only last a few days and do little to disrupt their schedules. "We never dreamed it would last so long," said Mary Tiles, a member of the UHPA bargaining team. "The state just had no intention of settling."

A meeting yesterday morning among Cayetano, UHPA President Alex Malahoff, UHPA associate executive director John Radcliffe, U.S. Rep. Neil Abercrombie, state chief negotiator Davis Yogi and state budget director Neal Miyahira was the first sign a settlement was imminent.

Members of the UHPA bargaining team spent the early evening calling their 24-member executive board to arrange a conference call to ask for a voice vote on the potential contract.

The faculty strike represented the the latest blow for the struggling university system, which was hit hard by the state's financial crisis of the mid-1990s. Full-time UH faculty members earn from $30,000 to $147,000, although most fall toward the bottom of that scale. And most Hawai'i faculty members earn less than their colleagues nationwide.

Prominent faculty members have been recruited by other universities, the 10-campus system faces a maintenance backlog of nearly $170 million, and Manoa received a bruising accreditation report in 1999. The accrediting team in 1999 renewed the school's accreditation, but blasted its communications, planning, administration and governance.

Weekend classes will be necessary because if the Manoa campus cannot complete 15 weeks of instruction, it will have to tell its accrediting agency why. The strike started during the 12th week of school and eight days of instruction were lost.

UHPA President Alexander Malahoff shakes hands with Gov. Ben Cayetano following last night's announcement in the governor's offices.

Gregory Yamamoto • The Honolulu Advertiser.

The Western Association of Schools and Colleges sets the standard for a college semester at 15 weeks. Although it's not a hard-and-fast rule, UH cannot deviate far from those norms.

Association officials plan a return to Manoa next spring and have been in touch with administrators regarding the faculty strike.

The university kept dorms, cafeterias, libraries and other buildings operating during the strike, but the degree of disruption to coursework and research projects remains unclear at this point. Some programs across the system were hit harder than others.

Students in the vocational and technical programs at the community colleges, who often have several hours of class time daily, already have felt adverse affects. Programs that train students for cosmetology, airplane maintenance, auto mechanics and other trades require hundreds of hours over the course of a year before students can take licensing exams in those areas.

Several faculty members at Honolulu Community College have expressed doubts that students would be able to accumulate enough hours by May to take their licensing exams.

Nursing and dental hygiene students also may have suffered from the strike because they missed nearly two weeks of clinical classes. All of their professors have been on strike, and just yesterday, the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board agreed to declare 19 nursing faculty members as essential workers.

"I don't know if they're going to graduate, but I know they'll be back in clinical," said Rosanne Harrigan, dean of the School of Nursing and Dental Hygiene.

If the strike lasted one more day, Harrigan said, there is no way the nursing students could have completed the semester. And it is too early to tell which, if any, of the 200 nursing students at the Manoa campus will be set back in their coursework.

Advertiser Staff Writers Curtis Lum and Kevin Dayton contributed to this report.