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The Honolulu Advertiser
Posted on: Thursday, October 8, 2009

UHPA rejects contract seeking pay cut

By Loren Moreno
Advertiser Education Writer

Negotiators from the University of Hawaiçi and the faculty’s labor union are expected to return to the bargaining table next week Wednesday after professors voted overwhelmingly today to reject a final contract offer, which included a 5 percent pay cut.

The University of Hawaiçi Professional Assembly, which represents some 3,000 faculty members, voted 86.2 percent to reject the university’s best and final contract offer, which also included a payroll lag of one check per year and $2,400 more in health care premiums.
The results were expected since union officials recommended that members reject the offer.
Union officials said the resounding objection to the university’s offer is a message that lawmakers and the governor should make funding public education — K-12 schools, community colleges and universities — a priority.
“We do not believe, and we don’t believe the evidence demonstrates, that our faculty are overpaid. Nor are they underworked. So why would you agree to a reduction in salary?” said J.N. Musto, executive director of UHPA in a news conference this afternoon.
Musto said that state officials should raise revenue through a modest increase in the excise tax, or cut the level of state programs offered, rather than expecting public workers to bear the brunt of the financial shortfall.
“You cannot expect that the unwillingness of the public to support, through their taxes dollars, public programs like universities and high schools and elementary schools, should then be bore on the backs of those who work diligently and hard in those endeavors, “ Musto said.
Meanwhile, UH President M.R.C. Greenwood, in a statement, said she was disappointed by the faculty’s reject of what she believed to be a “fair and reasonable” offer.
“The university is now considering its options for resolving this dispute. Budget reductions of $76 million have already been imposed on the university and the UHPA vote does not change that fact,” Greenwood said.
“The university believes that the most balanced approach to managing these reductions is through a combination of salary savings from pay reductions, payroll lags, vacancies and retirements, tuition revenues, and increased efficiencies and other cost saving measures,” she added.
Gov. Linda Lingle said the union’s vote does not change the state’s financial situation.
“I can say with every month that passes, the problem grows and grows because no savings have been realized for that month. That’s why we have been pushing to get these contracts resolved so we can start as a state to realize those savings moving forward. Without being able to close the deficit at the university, the university is going to face some very difficult decisions,” Lingle said.
Musto said UHPA has proposed numerous recommendations to help address the budget shortfall, including salary reductions through deferrals and loans to the UH.
The union also said it had proposed a hiring freeze of additional administrators, limiting new faculty appointments to only essential vacancies and more efficient management of university resources.
“This is not to say that we are unwilling to find ways to meet the interest of both parties,” Musto said.
Musto noted that the university faculty brings in to the state some $450 million in grants and research.
“That’s $150 million more into the state than is expended on their total salaries. It’s in that context that you have to take a look at what the state is asking of the faculty,” he said.
Last year, UHPA members received an 11 percent pay increase under their existing contract, which expired June 30. UHPA members have seen their pay increase by a total of 31 percent under that six-year agreement.The contract is still in effect because of an “evergreen clause.” That same clause legally prevents the University of Hawaii from imposing a contract on faculty members, union officials said yesterday.
However, Lingle said the university could impose the contract.
“The university will have the right to implement their last best offer and that will set up a situation where they will have to decide if they want to strike or accept that last best offer,” she said.
Musto said if the university attempts to impose a contract, the union would have several options, including blocking it through legal challenges or going out on strike.
The faculty contract vote comes weeks after the university executives — including vice presidents, chancellors, vice chancellors, athletic directors and deans — took pay cuts ranging from 6 to 10 percent.
It also comes at a time when the 10-campus UH system is experiencing record enrollment with 58,157 students, the highest in the school's history. The seven UH community college campuses saw an increase of 13.5 percent over last year.
UHPA was the second government union to vote on a new contract that is designed to address the state’s budget shortfall through pay cuts, furloughs or other labor savings. On Sept. 22, the Hawaii State Teachers Association reached an agreement on a new contract with the state Department of Education and the state Board of Education. The Lingle administration is in binding arbitration with the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the United Public Workers’ public safety unit.
Reach Loren Moreno at lmoreno@honoluluadvertiser.com or 535-2455.