Teachers play political card in contract dispute

The latest plea by the Hawaii State Teachers Association to get Gov. Neil Abercrombie back to the bargaining table seems more intended to step up political pressure on Abercrombie than to actually restart negotiations.

In a letter to Abercrombie, HSTA president Wil Okabe made blatant reference to the union’s campaign endorsement of Abercrombie and said, “I am now appealing to you as Neil — a person who I know is better able to resolve this matter than those to whom you have delegated too much authority.”

Suggesting that Abercrombie should abandon a contract offer he believes is in the best public interest to pay off a political debt isn’t likely a winning strategy.

The governor and Department of Education forced on teachers the state’s “last, best and final offer,” which involves a 5 percent pay cut and higher medical premiums, after reaching a handshake agreement with union negotiators only to have the deal voted down by the HSTA board.

If the union was serious about restarting negotiotions, it would do so not with press releases but with back-channel talks aimed at finding common ground for an agreement that could avert the legal battles now in motion.

Since HSTA rejected the state’s final offer, it’s the union’s move to make a workable counteroffer.

The union must face the reality that the state can’t give teachers better terms than the 5 percent pay cuts and higher insurance premiums accepted by the Hawaii Government Employees Association, the state’s largest public union, or the same terms would have to be given to HGEA and bust the budget.

Further talks between the state and HSTA would likely be limited to other concessions the state could make to teachers without affecting the HGEA contract.

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3 Comments on “Teachers play political card in contract dispute”

  1. Kolea Says:

    Okabe made an EXPLICIT “reference to the union’s… endorsement of Abercrombie,” but how is it “blatant” for him to do so? Okabe said:

    “While we certainly don’t believe that supporting candidate Abercrombie would entitle us to special treatment at the bargaining table from Governor Abercrombie, we are surprised to find ourselves facing one of Hawaii’s preeminent anti-union lawyer as we struggle to protect our Constitutional rights to fair and honest collective bargaining.”

    Neil posed as a friend of Labor during his campaign for Governor. Now that he is facing negotiations with the Teacher’s Union, he walks out of negotiations and hires the town’s leading anti-union lawyer to serve as strategist?

    What is “blatant” is Neil’s continual betrayal of his former allies. Had Lingle hired Katz to deal with the teachers, many Democrats would have blasted her for it. Only people totally unfamiliar with the history of labor relations in Hawaii could fail to be shocked at Neil’s action.

    The way things are going, I half-expect Abercrombie to offer Sam Slom a cabinet position. Or maybe he already offered and Sam turned him down?

  2. David Shapiro Says:

    Collective bargaining is a rough and tumble process and Abercrombie has a constitutional obligation to represent the employer. Criticizing the state for hiring a lawyer who specializes in helping the employer is as ridiculous as it would be to criticize HSTA for hiring a lawyer who specializes in helping unions.

  3. Doug Says:

    Why should/would the teachers agree with your argument that HGEA gets to negotiate the “best” contract for HSTA? As you may recall, that is one of the unfair labor practices alleged in the HSTA complaint. A practice that the administration response did not answer, but merely flatly denied.

    Now the HSTA should “face the reality” that unfair labor practices are the new norm? Eff that. HGEA does not get to make HSTA’s bed…

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