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The Honolulu Advertiser

Posted on: Saturday, October 26, 2002

Frustrated substitute teachers will attempt to organize union

By Jennifer Hiller
Advertiser Education Writer

Frustrated by a lack of benefits and a simmering dispute over pay rates, substitute teachers in Hawai'i public schools may form their first-ever labor union.

The Laborers International Union of North America is trying to organize the more than 5,200 substitute teachers now registered with the Department of Education and needs at least 30 percent, or about 1,600, of the substitute teachers, to sign an authorization card before it can go to the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board and ask for the issue to be put to a vote.

If successful, the effort for the first time would give substitute teachers the right to collective bargaining with the state. Hawai'i teachers have been represented since the 1970s by the Hawai'i State Teachers Association, which is precluded by law from also representing the substitutes.

Union organizer James Kuroiwa Jr., who ran unsuccessfully for the Windward O'ahu seat on the Board of Education, is leading the effort. Kuroiwa's wife, Patty, is a longtime substitute who saw her paycheck cut from $113 per day to $110 per day after the new teachers contract went into effect last year.

"The DOE knows the situation substitute teachers have been put in," Kuroiwa said. "It isn't right."

The Department of Education has about 13,000 regular school teachers, but uses an average of 1,000 substitutes per day across the state, according to an August DOE memo.

And putting long-term substitutes into full-time teaching positions has increasingly become a necessity as officials have struggled with a national shortage of instructors, a declining number of education graduates from local universities and a new federal law that requires a "highly qualified" teacher in every classroom by 2005.

Substitutes say the school system could not operate without them, and that they would be a force to reckon with if a labor dispute developed.

"They cannot run the schools without us," said substitute teacher Jo-Jennifer Goldsmith. "They need a teacher in the classroom by law."

The dispute between substitutes and the state began a few years ago when the state administration decided that substitutes could no longer qualify for unemployment pay in the summer and over Christmas break. But disagreements over pay this summer brought threats of class-action lawsuits for the first time.

Substitutes had been earning between $97.90 and $113.20 a day based on teaching experience and education level.

The DOE announced that the pay rate for all subs would rise to a flat rate of $133 a day, but then recanted, saying an interpretation from the attorney general's office and the governor's collective bargaining office said the pay should be $113. The $113 rate was based on pay for a full-time instructor but not a licensed teacher. Substitute pay would still rise, but it would happen gradually over the next few semesters as regular DOE teachers receive the increases guaranteed in their contract.

DOE spokesman Greg Knudsen said experienced substitute teachers should now be earning $116 per day, and that amount should increase next semester.

He also noted that substitute teachers who were at the bottom of the pay scale at $97.90 per day have seen a significant pay increase.

The union is relying mostly on word-of-mouth to reach the substitutes because Kuroiwa said the DOE will not provide the union with its list of active substitute teachers. Local 368 already represents construction workers, hospital workers and golf course maintenance workers in Hawai'i.

"We're going to be networking," Kuroiwa said. "We've got close to 200 names of people that have called us. We're asking them to contact their friends."

David Garner, a substitute teacher on Maui who has been at the center of the debate between substitutes and the DOE, said he has been trying for six years to find a union to represent teachers. He said the biggest complaint he hears from fellow longtime substitutes is the lack of health insurance coverage. State law requires companies to provide health insurance if employees work at least 20 hours a week.

"Most substitutes want to join a union to be treated as any other employee," Garner said. "If the state requires mom-and-pop businesses to do it, they should do it themselves. We're no different than hotel workers that are on call. Substitute teachers should fall under the same laws that apply to everyone else."

Reach Jennifer Hiller at jhiller@honoluluadvertiser.com or 525-8084.