A Job Well Done By HSTA Negotiators

Larry Price
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Wednesday - September 30, 2009
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Just about everyone on both negotiation teams was probably surprised by Hawaii public school teachers’ overwhelming ratification of a new two-year contract that will close public schools for 17 Fridays starting October 23. Most negotiators were reluctant to predict how the public teachers would vote. Most hedged their predictions by saying, “The outcome of the ratification vote could go either way.”

As it turned out 81 percent was one-way in favor of the taxpayers.

The 17 furlough days amount to an 8 percent pay cut. The new deal also postpones the implementation of random drug testing pending a court ruling that both sides have agreed to go along with when it is announced. One of the provisions in the contract also guarantees no layoffs for two years for tenured teacher only. Right now probation for new teachers is one year, the new contracts stretches that to two years, so hopefully the economy will pickup so additional layoffs are not needed.


 

These pay restrictions will help address the public school system’s unprecedented budget reductions totaling $468 million over the next two years. The ratification vote was a compliment to the HSTA’s negotiators and HSTA’s leadership that recommended the approval of the offer.

The ratification vote follows the Executive Branch’s self-imposed furlough days that amount to a 14-percent pay restriction for two years. If you are wondering how the overwhelming ratification by the teachers will effect the other unions still negotiating with the state, don’t be surprised if they fight to the bitter end. Chances are they will receive little empathy from the general public.

On another labor front, the UH’s Professional Assembly will be taking a vote on the UH’s last, best offer sometime soon, but it shouldn’t really matter to the state because the governor has already restricted the UH budget by 14 percent, and that is going to happen no matter how they vote. Of course they could decide to go out on strike, with no guarantee it would have any effect on the government’s budget woes. In fact, a UHPA strike would hurt the students and do nothing but save money for management.

There is one group of people who are not covered by union contracts, the so-called exempt-excluded employees. It will be up to the DOE Superintendent and the BOE to decide what kind of salary reduction they will be asked to take, if any. There is another consideration to contemplate, while the HGEA and UPW decide on a settlement, what are their members going to do when there are no teachers in the public schools on the mandated furlough Fridays? What would be the sense of having the public schools open with no students to serve? These questions, when answered, may be the leverage needed to force the other unions to settle. In business they call the strategy “log rolling.”


There are many other questions to be answered now that the HSTA has settled, and they are not going to be easy to answer. Such as: How will the loss of furlough days affect the No Child Left Behind mandate? How will the body of knowledge that needs to be taught be completed with 17 fewer instructional days?

As in other settlements, the devil will be in the details. Only one thing is certain, the HSTA deserves a great deal of gratitude from taxpayers who are so weary of these endless negotiations.

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