Our Continuing Public Union Fiasco

Larry Price
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Wednesday - November 11, 2009
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Hawaii’s public union situation is getting comical. The latest intrusions into the state’s collective bargaining mess border on insanity.

Kulani Correctional Center on the Big Island has long been shut down, but according to its contract with the United Public Workers Union, it must keep five guards on duty even if there are no prisoners to guard.

Furthermore, the state must provide a cook to prepare meals for them, because it’s in the contract. Remember, the contract has the power of law.

On the other side of the public union spectrum is the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which refused to accept management’s final offer and has asked for a mediator. Even with the refusal to accept a “last, best and final offer,” the university professors continue to pontificate on all of their campuses because they have an “Evergreen” clause in the their contract. That means, in layman terms, that they can’t be let go because they have refused a last, best contract offer - their current contract stays in force until the matter is settled.


At the Judiciary, they have started enforcing Furlough Fridays in grand fashion. They have a situation where the courts are open and the parking lots are closed on one hand, and on the other the court is furloughed, but the parking lot is open. Interesting to note the parking attendants are Hawaii Government Employees Association members.

Meanwhile, U.S. District Judge David Ezra, a court-appointed special master, is trying to mediate an outof-court settlement of two federal lawsuits filed to block Furlough Fridays. He is meeting with the parties as well as representatives of the teachers’ union and the HGEA. Whatever happened to the arbitrators who were listening to the arguments of both sides?

There has been some satisfaction for our furloughed public schools. More than 100 of the state’s 256 regular public schools filed requests to restore instructional time by canceling teacher planning days or adjusting their class schedules in response to Furlough Fridays, and on Nov. 5 the Board of Education voted to approve it.

Parent groups have bugged the Legislature to go into special session (which probably won’t happen) to come up with a solution.

There’s more. Imagine what would happen if the courts mandate that the furloughed teachers go back to school. The legal ruling would not mandate that HGEA and UPW members go back to work, so we could end up with teachers in classrooms, but no staff or principals to supervise them.

Probably the most scary prospect of all is asking the legislators to do something. Well, it’s obvious what they will do, because they don’t have many options: Raise taxes or raid the Hawaii Hurricane Relief Fund. It’s interesting to note that under state law, homeowners must contribute 0.l percent of the value of a new mortgage to the fund, which has to date about $2 billion in its coffers. There has never been a question of whether a homeowner participated in the fund. It’s a separate revenue stream. There have been attempts to refund the mortgage fees, but it was killed in the Senate years ago. It’s a good bet that, under public pressure, the legislators will raid it. It’s a simple tax. You pay money in and get no money out; it’s just sitting there and the legislators in power pretty much own it and its disposition.

Finally, there is the question of how to legally “un-ratify” a ratified union collective bargaining agreement that has the weight of law. Of course, this could all become a moot point if management and labor can reach an agreement before they have the opportunity to"un-ratify” the one they just ratified.

But remember, the HSTA “un-ratified” its last contract with the state over a random drug testing provision, and it’s still stuck in the Judiciary. So don’t expect any quick resolution to our negotiation problems.

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