Unions, Not Taxpayers, Get A Deal

Larry Price
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Wednesday - May 12, 2005
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It appears the balance of power in Hawaii has shifted from taxpayers to public union membership, if you consider what happened in the waning days of the Legislature with a most noble and compassionate bill, SB 1352, Relating to Public Employees.

The original intent of the bill was to require state employees be given “up to seven days of paid leave each calendar year to serve as a bone marrow donor and up to 30 days of paid leave each calendar year to serve as an organ donor.”

Then something happened in another arena totally unrelated to bone marrow and organ donors. The Hawaii Supreme Court decided back in January that Honolulu city officials did have the right to transfer 10 Pearl City refuse workers to the Honolulu base yard rather than pay them to do nothing. The United Public Workers Union, which represents the workers, challenged the move. They won before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, and management was mandated to negotiate all future transfers, reassignments or layoffs of workers. Management balked at the idea, saying it would limit government’s ability to be flexible when operations needed to be revamped to meet demands and shifts in population.

Management took the ruling to the state Supreme Court, and the director of the city Department of Human Resources, Kenneth Nakamatsu, argued successfully that if the ruling was not overturned, “The UPW had 10 employees not working at all and had been sitting on the bench in the shop for several years.” The unions involved said that the idea was not to limit management’s flexibility, rather to just have them negotiate any transfers, reassignments or layoffs.

How is this an example of a shift in power?

In one of the most spectacular legislative deceptions on record, the union talked the legislators into passing a new law, the aforementioned SB 1352, with no testimony or notification, to restructure the SB 1352 contents from bone marrow and organ donors to Public Employee; Collective Bargaining. Said another way, they gutted the original intent of SB 1352 to placate union demands — which goes to show once again that anything is possible whenever the Legislature is in session.

This all happened under the cover of darkness and took probably only one phone call and three days to switch the contents of the original bill and kill the benefits of a noble cause to one of pacifying the desires of public unions. I’m not knocking the bill because it has limited merit. It was a work of art for the union lobbyist to pull off the gutting of the bill and using the bill to satisfy a powerful union’s desire. It was like political magic. How could anyone not want to belong to such a powerful union force? Imagine having in writing that management could not establish the procedures or criteria on promotions, transfers, assignments, demotions, layoffs, suspensions, terminations, discharges or any other disciplinary action without negotiating with the appropriate union over the impact of management’s decision.

As one union representative put it, “It is not a ban on managerial actions, it just requires negotiations prior to any decisions being made.”

For this reason, SB 1352 will long be remembered as a symbol of chicanery at the 2005 session. What would make it truly a symbol of union power is if the measure gets vetoed by the governor and then the Legislature can be given the order to override her veto.

In either case, it wins my favorite bill award of the 2005 legislative session.

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