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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Friday, November 2, 2001

State, teachers union head for hearing over bonuses

By Alice Keesing
Advertiser Education Writer

Mediation efforts to resolve a bonus dispute between the state and teachers union have fallen apart and both sides are preparing their arguments for a hearing next week.

The Hawai'i Labor Relations Board in September ordered the two sides into mediation in an attempt to end the dispute over a professional bonus. Board chairman Brian Nakamura said at the time that mediation was preferable to holding a hearing and attributing blame in the case.

But attorneys for the two sides told the board yesterday that mediation had been unsuccessful.

"It's not going to be settled through mediation," HSTA attorney Vernon Yu told the board during a pre-hearing conference. Yu said mediator Colbert Matsumoto informed him earlier in the week that there was no hope of the two sides reaching agreement.

State and union negotiators agreed on the 3 percent bonus for teachers with master's degrees and professional diplomas during the April teachers strike. But even after teachers had voted to accept the contract and return to work, the whole deal nearly fell apart because of a disagreement over who was supposed to receive the bonus and whether it was to be paid for one or two years.

The dispute delayed payment of a $1,100 retention bonus and other negotiated raises until the governor in September agreed to implement all of the contract with the exception of the disputed professional bonus.

With the end of mediation, the HLRB will begin hearing both sides' complaints Monday.

The state argues that it verbally agreed to pay the bonus for one year, but says the union staff changed the agreement while typing up the contract. State officials did not notice the change until one week later.

The union claims the agreement was always for two years and is asking the board to rule that the written contract is the valid one.

More than 6,400 of Hawai'i's nearly 13,000 teachers were eligible for the bonus at the end of the last school year. The estimated cost of the bonus has ranged from $6 million to $10 million a year.

Reach Alice Keesing at akeesing@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8014.