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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Wednesday, March 21, 2001

State files complaint on teacher contract deadlock

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

The increasingly rancorous negotiations for a teachers contract could be headed for the courts if the union and state don't reach agreement before an impending strike.

HSTA President Karen Ginoza called the governor's numbers misleading.

Bruce Asato • The Honolulu Advertiser

Two complaints filed by the state against the teachers union have set the stage for legal action. The state has charged that the union has not bargained in good faith. The second complaint questions union plans to photograph anyone who crosses the picket line.

The complaints have further complicated the deadlocked negotiations, and with a potential strike 15 days away, officials on both sides are working on new scenarios and timelines.

Union officials, who had planned to file their strike notice earlier this week, are now conferring with legal counsel about their next steps. They also are working on their response to the state's complaints, which they say hold no merit. And despite recent developments, the union is forging ahead with plans for a walkout on or after April 5.

However, the state's action does threaten to at least delay a strike. When the union files its strike notice, the attorney general's office has said it will respond with a motion asking the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board to prohibit a strike until the complaints are resolved.

Honolulu attorney Jared Jossem believes that, in filing the complaints, the state is setting the stage for future court action.

"I suspect what their strategy is, is to set up a case for an injunction of some sort," said Jossem, who specializes in labor law.

"(The court) could order (teachers) not to go on strike," Jossem said. "Whether or not that would be effective could create a legal crisis of significant proportions."

The action could result in a conflict between state law and the federal law that presumes a union's constitutional right to strike. If barred from striking, the union also could stage a sick-in, Jossem said.

"Then you have enormous proof problems trying to figure out who's really sick and who's on strike," he said.

Jossem believes a court injunction is still a long way off, "but I think at this point my reading is that the public employers are trying to put additional pressure on the teachers union to re-evaluate their conduct at the bargaining table and they're trying to use that pressure to cause things to slow down."

Deputy Attorney General Francis Keeno yesterday confirmed that court action is now a possibility. If the labor relations board does not grant the state's motion to prohibit a strike, the state could argue its case in court, he said. At that point the state could ask for a temporary restraining order to prevent a teacher walkout.

Keeno said that, as far as he is aware, that would be the first time the state has sought an injunction to prevent a strike.

"But the ultimate objective is still to reach a settlement," he said.

Hawai'i State Teachers Association Executive Director Joan Husted also agreed the present course of events could lead to legal action. And she believes that the union also has grounds for a legal complaint.

"We're not going to sit back and say it's OK anytime you want to file a complaint to prevent a strike," Husted said.

Meanwhile, the union yesterday responded angrily to a second full-page newspaper advertisement from the governor. The advertisement lays out the state's offers to public employee unions.

"The simple truth is that the state, in good faith, has put forth two offers to provide teachers with reasonable pay increases," said Gov. Ben Cayetano in the advertisement.

But HSTA President Karen Ginoza said the governor's numbers are misleading.

"The state is proposing to raise the salary for beginning teachers to $35,000, but the governor isn't saying that they will not get that salary until two years from now, in the year 2003," she said.

The state's proposal does nothing to fix the real problem of Hawai'i's teacher shortage, she added.

Despite the escalating war of words, both parties say they're willing to keep talking. The union has extended the invitation to sit down anytime, Husted said. Chief state negotiator Davis Yogi said he will approach the union "when the rhetoric dies down."