A Good Reason For A Con-Con

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 05, 2008
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I thought it was real nice of Gov. Linda Lingle to release state funds for the last round of teacher pay raises. She didn’t have to do that, especially after she had threatened to withhold the funds until random testing of drug and alcohol abuse was implemented.

The Hawaii State Teacher’s Association had negotiated and signed a contract accepting 11 percent pay raises over 18 months, along with the testing. But the testing was delayed pending state Labor Relations Board hearings. Now the HSTA is saying it will agree to random tests if they are limited to certain teachers.

Hopefully, the issue of random drug testing will be settled quickly. What negotiators have demonstrated on both sides of the table is that most do not prepare in anywhere near the detail they should. How much preparation is undertaken depends on the magnitude of an agreement’s consequences, on negotiators’ experience and expertise, and on cultural traits.


Simply put, neither side did its homework. It appears they did not examine the fundamental interests or seriously explore the alternatives to negotiations concerning a random drug testing program.

It’s worth mentioning that the addition of a drug-testing clause in the collective bargaining preparation was a result of public outrage over several high-profile cases of teachers involved with drug busts. The negotiators in this case started out as they have for decades: no brainstorming together, starting with positional bargaining, initiating claiming tactics in the very beginning of the negotiations, and locking out possible joint gains.

When was the last time these negotiators agreed on anything before they initiated negotiations? Neither side was clear about any possible tradeoffs - their best alternative to a negotiated agreement and their reservation values. To make matters worse, the assistance of the American Civil Liberties Union was solicited after the fact.

Traditionally, negotiations with public unions spend more time on cutting up the money available rather than baking a bigger pie to share. Without realizing it, negotiators leave potential gains on the bargaining table and fall into innumerable psychological traps. Example: After the contract with the HSTAwas negotiated and ratified, both sides thought they had performed well - even the public was satisfied with the outcome.

Now the public does not feel satisfied; instead, they feel cheated. The HSTA has the pay raises it asked for, and the public does not have any confidence that the professionals teaching their children are doing it in a drug-free environment. In all failed negotiations, both sides are placing the blame on the other for any and all difficulties encountered along the way.

If there is a reason for a Constitutional Convention, the HSTA and state negotiators have provided one.

The culture of negotiation in Hawaii has been violated. If both sides want to change how collective bargaining is conducted in the state, then they should discuss it in a Con-Con and let the voters decide.

Making “nice nice” is not a viable negotiation strategy.

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