Teachers Union Gaining Strength

Larry Price
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Wednesday - July 20, 2011
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Regardless of how the Hawaii Labor Relations Board rules on the Hawaii State Teachers Association’s complaint that the state interfered with its right to bargain collectively, it appears the damage has already been done.

There’s a big shadow on the future of collective bargaining with the public unions.

There are a couple of things to be aware of to appreciate what’s happening in the world of public sector negotiations.

For starters, collective bargaining agreements, when ratified by the union and management, have the power of law.

They just can’t be ignored by a governor or anyone else. There’s a big difference between negotiating with a colleague and an intimate acquaintance.

From a relationship point of view, it can change how negotiations will be handled in the future.

There is a potential for increasing knowledge of others’ preferences, and opportunities for enlarging the negotiations.

To some degree, after a year of haggling with management, the union now has a more realistic understanding of how drug testing will be conducted in the future. It’s been more than a year since the topic of drug testing came up, and if not for the present situation, it wouldn’t have reached this level of understanding between management and HSTA.

Another significant, if unintended, consequence is that the governor’s unilateral derailment of the collective bargaining law has substantially influenced the likelihood of new, more powerful coalitions being formed. Some of them may not be favorable to those in power.

There also is concern that these unilateral agreements can become barriers because of assumptions parties make about the other side and their preferences, and the dominance of goals unrelated to the quality of the negotiated outcome.

So when the smoke clears, there could be an expensive consequence for the governor’s slap in the face of HSTA. The teachers have always been in the Democrats’ protective custody, and it has always been a good coalition that has made each side stronger.

The public must understand that the status quo or past precedent enjoyed by the public school system is valued because predictability is what parents and the public want.

Also, there is an assumption that exists, or used to exist, that previous behavior was acceptable or became the expectation for future behavior.

As of right now, all bets are canceled.

The years of favorable past precedent are gone, hopefully not forever.

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