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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Tuesday, March 27, 2001

Labor official leaves hearing

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

One of the three members of the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board angrily recused himself from hearings between the state and the teachers union yesterday after suggestions that he was biased.

The attorney representing the teachers union said the recusal could affect plans for an April 5 strike by creating an opportunity for a deadlock in the labor relations board. The board today begins hearing two complaints the state has filed against the union.

Board member Chester Kunitake stormed out of a meeting yesterday after a deputy attorney general asked if he could be fair in hearing the state's two complaints, which accuse the Hawai'i State Teachers Association of bad-faith bargaining and coercive tactics by planning to photograph those who cross the picket lines.

"It appeared to me that (Kunitake) could not treat the state fairly," said Deputy Attorney General Francis Keeno. "He was predisposed to thinking this was all done to stall the strike without even hearing any evidence."

The HSTA's attorney, Vernon Yu, objected to Kunitake's recusal, and board chairman Brian Nakamura said he would consider the matter.

By law, the board's rulings are decided by a majority vote. If the two remaining members are deadlocked in this case, Yu said a third board member may have to be temporarily appointed.

"That would involve more time and result in potential delay of the strike date, which essentially is what the employer is asking for in his prohibited practice complaints," he said.

Kunitake is the board's union representative. Kathleen Racuya-Markrich, Gov. Ben Cayetano's former press secretary, represents the employers' interests. Nakamura is a neutral public representative; he also worked for Cayetano when Cayetano was lieutenant governor. All board members are appointed by the governor.

Meanwhile, the HSTA this morning will officially withdraw its plans to photograph anyone crossing the picket line.

"I think the remedy that teachers have offered takes care of the matter sufficiently such that to perpetuate the complaint is unreasonable by the state," Yu said.

However, Keeno said he wanted to pursue the issue.

"I want them to admit that that is a prohibited practice," he said. "It's one thing to say, 'OK, we're not going to do it,' but we also want them to say what they did was wrong. It's kind of like an accountability."

"It shows that we had a legitimate purpose for filing this complaint," Keeno added. "Everybody ... has been saying that the governor did this just to stall. But we say, no, we did this because this is illegal."

However, Nakamura has indicated his inclination to rule the complaint moot today if the union says it will not photograph those who cross the picket line.