A Few Favors For Neil’s Favorites?

Larry Price
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Wednesday - April 20, 2011
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If you’ve followed the collective bargaining history in Hawaii over the past 40 years or so, you were probably dazzled by the newly introduced term “favored nation.”

It came out of closed-door meetings between the HGEA and Gov. Abercromie’s negotiators trying to come up with a few favors from the state’s biggest public union. No one is sure what the term means exactly. Some are guessing that means that if any other union negotiates higher pay rates or additional benefits, then HGEA members would automatically get the same increases.

It’s kind of hard to imagine how former union leaders like David Trask would handle such clumsy terminology. There’s a good possibility that none of today’s deal makers would have dared present the idea. HGEA members are being offered nine days of paid leave, not furloughs, in gratitude for accepting a 5-10 percent pay cut and an increase in their medical insurance premium. One of the critics of the idea referred to it as fuzzy math. It’s more than fuzzy, it is a form of informal collusion.

It may be that the union leaders don’t realize that the word “favored” doesn’t sit well with taxpayers who already fear that unions have a favored status with the legislature and other powerful politicians. Being treated fairly is all anyone can wish for in these tough economic times. Favored is way too close to favorite and favors to help the public union’s image with taxpayers. Neither taxpayers nor union members need any new tricky language added to the process. If the word furloughs bother the members of the legislature, then so should favored nation.

In the United States, labor unions work to ensure workers’ collective bargaining rights over wages, benefits and working conditions are upheld for their members. When employers’ attempt to violate the contract provisions of their employees, favored union representatives are supposed to do everything they can to resolve the disputed issues.

In today’s economy, labor unions have been faced with mounting pressures to reduce their collective bargaining rights and in some cases eliminate benefits portioned for their retirees. Despite having adequate resources and a functional structure, union leaders are finding it an uphill battle to maintain the power and structure of the unions of the past.

Faced with a legacy of withering legislative support, regulatory, political and media attacks, labor unions members are being forced to embrace the transformation of the Hawaii’s labor industry, like the rest of the nation. The Taft-Hartley Act enacted in June 1947 is a federal law that tried to limit the power of labor unions and monitor their activities. The amendments contained in Taft-Hartley added a list of unfair labor practices and a list of prohibited actions. Maybe these new semantics that are confusing at best would qualify as unfair labor language. Favorite or favored nation. Does that mean favors for public unions or favorite political power source.

The members and taxpayers deserve better terminology.

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