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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, March 27, 2003

Bill offers arbitration in place of strikes

By Lynda Arakawa
Advertiser Capitol Bureau

About 24,500 state and county public workers would lose their right to strike but be able to use binding arbitration to resolve stalled contract negotiations, under a bill approved by the House Finance Committee yesterday.

The measure, which affects six collective bargaining units, including supervisors, school principals and other white-collar workers under the Hawai'i Government Employees Association, is opposed by Gov. Linda Lingle's administration and supported by the HGEA.

The bill would in part reverse the Legislature's decision in 2001 to eliminate mandatory arbitration for most public worker unions and restore their right to strike. Now only state nurses, prison guards, firefighters and police officers are entitled to binding arbitration.

The administration argued that unions are virtually guaranteed salary and wage increases if binding arbitration is restored. State chief negotiator Ted Hong also said arbitration has become a disincentive to negotiate and results in the parties leaving issues unresolved for the arbitrator to sort out.

Lingle has repeatedly said the state has no money for raises for public workers, except for police officers, firefighters and other first-responders. State negotiations with HGEA are continuing, and the contracts expire June 30.

HGEA officials said restoring binding arbitration would ensure there is no disruption in public services and that issues would be settled by a neutral, objective third party. Honolulu Police Department Maj. Kenneth Simmons also testified in support of the bill, saying a strike by police radio technicians and dispatchers would place the public and police officers in danger.

The Finance Committee voted 10-2 along party lines, with Reps. Colleen Meyer, R-47th (Ha'iku, Kahalu'u, La'ie) and Mark Moses, R-40th (Makakilo, Kapolei, Royal Kunia) voting against the bill. The measure would not take effect until Dec. 31, 2004.

"We know what happens with binding arbitration. It's slanted toward the employees and the employers are just out of it," Meyer said.

But House Finance Committee Chairman Dwight Takamine, D-1st (N. Hilo, Hamakua, N. Kohala), said recent civil service reform legislation requires arbitrators to consider the state's ability to pay.

"I think one objective is stability and labor peace," he said of the bill.