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

Stalemate continues in HSTA strike

 •  UH strike over; classes resume today
Special report: The Teacher Contract Crisis

By Alice Keesing and Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Staff Writers

As the state resolved one strike yesterday, the deadlock with the striking public school teachers appeared to be hardening.

The governor and teachers union are facing increasing pressure to settle from a federal court judge, state lawmakers and the public, but the union said the last talks Monday were unproductive.

As the strike drags into its 14th day, it's an increasing hardship for families and teachers across the state.

The two sides will meet with a federal mediator again today, but Gov. Ben Cayetano yesterday indicated that the strike could run into its third week.

When asked about U.S. Sen. Daniel Inouye's prediction that the strike would be wrapped up by the weekend, Cayetano responded, "There's an outside chance, but I think that may be a bit optimistic."

The Hawai'i State Teachers Association, however, believes the threat of federal court intervention will force the state to settle.

U.S. District Judge David Ezra has said he will step in if the strike is not resolved by the end of this week. He has the authority under the Felix consent decree, which orders the state to improve services to special-needs children by December.

The strike has seriously damaged those efforts, say attorneys in the Felix case, who yesterday lodged a motion asking the judge to appoint a master to take over the education system.

Cayetano described Ezra's statements as a "credible threat" that "you can't dismiss."

"But I would hope that Judge Ezra wouldn't do it," he said. "I mean, after all, this is a sovereign state. We don't need the federal court to come in and say, 'This is how you should do things.' "

Husted said the state can't afford to ignore Ezra's threats.

"As an attorney, (Cayetano) is well aware of what the power of the court is," she said. "And he may argue until he's blue in the face state's rights versus civil rights, but he's not going to prevail in it. And I think Ben knows that.

"If the state decides that Friday, when Judge Ezra returns to the bench, is a make or break day for them, we could settle within 24 hours. There aren't that many issues, basically you're talking salary and everyone has talked every concept known to man. We can get it ratified in 24 hours, and the picket lines will come down."

However, the state has not put any more money on the table, and the union has said there will be no agreement without it. The two sides were last reported to be $100 million apart.

Both sides do agree — although for different reasons — that a settlement with the university professors could help speed things up.

For Cayetano, an UHPA settlement establishes a level of expectation for pay raises that he expects HSTA to follow. The United Public Workers received an 11 percent package, HGEA won an arbitrated settlement of 14 percent, and UHPA was asking for 13 percent.

HSTA President Karen Ginoza said that is not enough.

"Again, our argument goes back to we need wages that are competitive nationally, and it's very important we prepare for the shortage of teachers that's looming in the future," she said.

For the union, the settlement with UHPA will free up time for the state's chief negotiator, Davis Yogi, who has been juggling talks with public employee unions this week and unable to give HSTA officials the time they want to negotiate.

"If they settle or are close to settlement, I would expect Davis' activity to accelerate here," Husted said. "I can't believe the governor of this state would sit there and say, 'You guys can sit out there for a little bit longer,' because with the strength on the lines, they're not going to find anyone to teach school."

Teachers continue to demonstrate their solidarity on the picket line with less than 1 percent reporting to work.

The union said 129 teachers crossed the line yesterday, just two more than crossed on the first day of the strike.

But the strike also is reaching a critical point for teachers, who will miss their first paycheck Friday. Many teachers also are running out of time to get the number of days they need to clear probation. And the retirement benefits of senior teachers will soon be affected.

Husted said the union is committed to getting probationary teachers credited for a full semester in the settlement and is working on the retirement issue.

Cayetano said he is impressed by the teachers solidarity.

"But that won't change the fiscal situation," he said. "We could fund everything they all want. We just have to flush the rest of the people down the toilet, and that's what this is all about: being balanced."

Cayetano said the education of Hawai'i's children is being held hostage by the strike.

"It's not like we went on strike, we offered money so they wouldn't go on strike," he said. "But they went ahead anyway, and what I face as governor is the historic closing of public schools both at the higher and lower level ... and two unions coming together and saying, 'Give us money or we're going to strike against you and shut down your children's education.' That's what it boils down to, no matter how you cut it."

However, House Democratic leaders yesterday repeated their willingness to find the money to pay for union raises. Dissatisfied with the pace of negotiations, the lawmakers yesterday called on the governor and the teachers' union to "step up to the plate" and quickly reach settlements.

"We ought to settle this thing, and whatever the settlement is, then the burden is on us to find the funds to do it, but put that burden on us," said House Higher Education Committee Chairman Roy Takumi, D-36th (Pearl City, Waipahu).

"Every day teachers get a little more demoralized, and if the intention of the governor is to ... break the spirits of our educators then we can't support it," said House Majority Whip Brian Schatz.

"We don't care how long it takes, how many cups of coffee, how little sleep the negotiators may get, or how uncomfortable it may be to have to sit down, lock themselves in a room and let our public education system start again," said Schatz, D-24th (Makiki, Tantalus).

Advertiser Staff Writer Lynda Arakawa contributed to this report.