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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Thursday, April 19, 2001

Governor, HGEA reach deal on pay raises

By Kevin Dayton
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

Gov. Ben Cayetano said yesterday that a tentative deal has been struck that clears the way for government workers to collect on an arbitration award that granted 23,000 HGEA members raises averaging 14.5 percent over four years.

Hawaii Government Employees Association Executive Director Russell Okata and Cayetano said they have reached an understanding that the governor will not veto a bill to provide money for the raises if the union accepts reduced vacation and sick-leave benefits for future hires, as well as a drug-screening policy that allows outright firing of employees who test positive for a second time.

The two sides also agreed to cooperate more closely on the issues of privatization; eliminating binding arbitration for most public employees; and controlling the cost of government workers' health benefits. However, it's not clear exactly where those efforts will lead.

"The promise I made was we'd work toward meeting his concerns (on those issues)," said Okata, who stressed that he remains committed to "protecting our members' interests — that's the tricky part."

Cayetano said his agreements with HGEA and the United Public Workers vindicate his tough tactics in union negotiations this year and last year because "it shows that we are now beginning to get some of the changes that we want, that I think are necessary.

"You think I wanted these changes just to take things away from working people? No. I want these changes because I think they're important to state government."

The raises, which range from 9 percent to 17 percent for HGEA members, would cost the state general treasury about $153 million over the next two years.

For a year, Cayetano has said the state could not afford the raises and argued that the arbitration panel had overstepped its authority in awarding them. But solid, bipartisan majorities in both houses of the Legislature favored paying the raises, arguing that the state was at least morally obligated to pay them because they were awarded in what was supposed to be "binding" arbitration.

That set up the possibility of a veto being overridden, but Cayetano seems to have avoided such a confrontation with the new agreement. The two sides are working on a draft memorandum of agreement

Okata said he still needs to persuade the HGEA negotiating teams and leadership to accept the deal, but he is confident he can sell the package. He said the agreement was reached in discussions over the past week.

The reductions in sick leave and vacation benefits, identical to those agreed to by the United Public Workers union last last year, would affect all employees hired after July 2.

Under the UPW contract, new employees would be given 12 days of vacation leave annually, eventually working their way up to 24 days after 20 years of service. Present policy provides 21 days of vacation leave annually, regardless of service.

Additionally, new workers would start with 15 days of sick leave annually instead of 21 days. After 20 years of service, they would get 21 days.