UHPA must take realistic view
By Lee Cataluna
The current public worker contract disputes have laid bare some truths. The situation has exposed what the general public thinks of unionized state workers (entitled) and what state workers think of themselves (entitled).
Perhaps the most dramatic example of this is at the University of Hawai'i, where the faculty union voted last week to reject a contract proposal that called for a 5 percent pay cut. This after getting a 7 percent increase in 2007, and an 11 percent increase last year. UH faculty said loud and clear they were unwilling to take a hit.
University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly executive director J.N. Musto said: "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?"
Uh, maybe because your employer doesn't have the money to pay you?
Public school teachers are hardly underworked or overpaid. Neither were they excessively stubborn about a pay cut. They didn't expect taxpayers to bleed more money to keep them unaffected by the recession.
"You cannot expect that the unwillingness of the public to support, through their tax 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.
But university faculty cannot expect that their unwillingness to take a pay cut should then be borne on the backs of people who are already hurting.
There is sympathy for the image of the public school teacher who has 36 kids shoved into a hot classroom six hours a day. The image of a college professor, teaching a few courses each semester for students who want to be there and taking consulting gigs on the side is not quite as compelling.
We all know professors at UH who are smart, dedicated, wonderful people deserving of twice what they're paid. This is not about what they deserve. It is about dealing with a very real economic crisis in a realistic manner.
No one can begrudge a union for trying every tactic in the play book to get the best deal for its members. But calling on taxpayers to take the hit isn't going to win over popular support even during prosperous times. This week, UHPA is to return to the bargaining table with its own recommendations to address the budget shortfall. Raising taxes on an already struggling community to pay salaries that average $84,000 is an insulting suggestion.
They're smart people. Surely they have something more reasonable in mind than that.