A Simple Handshake Ends Furloughs

Larry Price
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Wednesday - June 02, 2010
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Gov. Linda Lingle

The word from the governor’s office is that Furlough Fridays are over. Gov. Linda Lingle announced that a deal had been reached to end 17 furlough days scheduled for the upcoming school year.

The deal that was struck between the governor, Board of Education and Department of Education calls for the use of about $57 million from the state’s Hurricane Relief Fund, about $2 million in federal funds and six planning days that teachers agreed to give back to the state. A $10 million line of credit from local banks also is available, if needed.

The most amazing thing about the suddenness of the negotiated agreement is that it was all finalized in less than 48 hours and sealed - after a year of contentious negotiations - with a mere handshake!


 

If you remember, the negotiations began with a contract the Hawaii State Teachers Association ratified and signed a deal with the state that contained a provision to initiate random drug testing for the teachers, following some high-profile arrests of teachers who got caught with drugs. HSTA decided afterward that it would not honor the provision for the drug testing because it was unconstitutional and unfair to teachers. The whole issue ended up in court, has never been cleared and still needs clarification. In fact, it was the beginning of a question of trust between the negotiators for the state and HSTA.

The problem from the beginning was there were too many parties at the table. There were the state negotiators, BOE, DOE, the teachers’union (HSTA) and at least three major unions as well as a group of ambitions elected officials involved in the negotiations, all fueled by the state’s huge $1.2 billion budget shortfall. HSTA eventually voted to accept furloughs instead of layoffs and pay cuts. A lot of the negotiations were done in public in an attempt to put pressure on the administration.

It didn’t work, and the hate and distrust deepened. Remember the old saying, “trust begets trust, hate begets hate.” It will be interesting to watch how long this “handshake” agreement lasts.

It was a unique negotiation because of the number of people involved and the unbalanced rhetoric. It was six against one from the beginning. Suddenly, the issue was not the budget deficit, it was the parents of elementary and middle-school children who became a force, staging media-driven “sit-ins” at the Capitol.

In stunning fashion, after listening to arguments for a year, an agreement was made possible in two days, thanks to a unique three-way public-private partnership among the state, teachers and the major banks in Hawaii. In the end, teachers, through a supplemental agreement signed by HSTA and the BOE, agreed to give up six paid teacher planning days.


In the meantime, the Hawaii Government Employees Association sent out a memo on its Web site that DOE employees would still have furlough days, but they would be reduced by 11 days - 10-month employees would have six days of furloughs and 12-month employees would have 13 days.

Generally speaking, this deal happened because of the obvious impasse at $10 million. With the bargaining zone between the parties clearly defined, the answer was: Find $10 million. Without hesitation, First Hawaiian Bank leadership stepped forward and financed the $10 million, two-year no-interest loan to bridge the gap between the
two warring factions, if needed.

It’s true that this deal was the idea of a member of the governor’s cabinet, Ted Lui.

But make no mistake, what forced the eventual showdown was the governor’s willingness to stick by her fiduciary duties in the face of overwhelming, unholy coalitions.

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