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

UH faculty union puts focus on strike

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Staff Writer

The union representing the state's 3,100 university faculty members dropped a complaint against the University of Hawai'i administration yesterday, clearing the legal path for a planned April 5 strike.

An order from the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board, the three-member panel that oversees collective bargaining in the state, had thrown the planned strike date into doubt.

The union had filed complaints against the Board of Regents earlier this year, but it withdrew those complaints Monday morning after the Labor Relations Board said the issues need to be resolved before a strike could begin.

"There's no cause for any injunction anywhere," said Tony Gill, the attorney representing the University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly. "There's no way I can see that if the faculty votes to strike... , it will be blocked."

The union had complained that some deans at Manoa were telling faculty members they had to show why they should receive merit pay even though merit pay has not been approved. In addition, the complaint said Kapi'olani Community College is reorganizing in a way that affects working conditions, although those plans have not been approved by the Board of Regents or the union. Also according to the complaint, Kapi'olani Community College is classifying some lecturers in "variable positions" that do not exist under the union contract.

Gill said the union may bring those complaints against the university again later, but for now is concentrating on plans for a strike.

Faculty members today will conclude a three-day strike authorization vote on all 10 campuses statewide. The results will be announced by the union's executive board Saturday afternoon.

The union and the state remain far apart on key contract issues, and professors say a new provision in the state's latest contract offer likely will provoke them into a work stoppage.

While the state is offering the 3,100 faculty members a 7 percent pay raise over two years and 3 percent more in possible merit raises, it also wants to restrict retirement and health benefits. That would mean faculty would have to pay the entire bill for their health-care coverage and lose credit toward retirement during the summer months when they don't work, the professors said.

Retention and recruitment of new faculty members would be nearly impossible, the union argues, and some professors have wondered who would teach summer school classes under such a system.

Davis Yogi, the state's chief negotiator, has called the proposal a bargaining chip. He said the state would be willing to keep the faculty on a 12-month pay and benefit schedule if the faculty union gives up its lawsuit opposing the one-time pay lag accepted by the other public employee unions.

UHPA was the only union in the state 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 $51 million saving.

UHPA took the state to court over the issue — and won. As a result, the state had to develop one payroll system for the university and another for other state workers.

Gov. Ben Cayetano has called the faculty "selfish" for refusing to go along with the plan.

The union has fought the payroll lag in court four times since 1996 and has won each time, Gill said.

"The faculty, as I understand, are not going to be blackmailed like this," Gill said. "They are not going to play that game."

The union says the payroll lag would cost the professors 4 percent of their yearly income because they will lose one paycheck. Because the state is offering a 3 percent raise, they will actually lose money if they agree to the provision, said J.N. Musto, UHPA executive director.

The union is asking for a 6 percent raise each year for two years, as well as 0.5 percent for possible merit raises each year. It also wants to reduce the community college teaching load from 15 credit hours a semester to 12 hours.

The union offered earlier this month to drop its payroll lag lawsuits and change the date on which paychecks are distributed, but the state has said that isn't going far enough.

In other developments, the union said it will consider filing a class-action lawsuit on behalf of UH students if the faculty strike is prolonged and the academic semester is lost.

Students have expressed concerns about tuition, graduation dates, the start of summer school and the loss of financial aid money if they cannot complete their coursework.

"If they lose this semester, UHPA will do everything in our power to help them get back their tuition," Musto said.