Posted tagged ‘labor unions’

Are UPW talks coming to a head?

September 16, 2011

If you think the state’s legal battle with the Hawaii State Teachers Association is intense, wait until negotiations boil over with the United Public Workers, which represents more than 13,000 state and county blue-collar workers.

Talks with the UPW have produced little apparent progress since the old “Furlough Friday” contract expired July 1, and while the matter has dragged out, UPW members have enjoyed a windfall in their paychecks.

They’re out from under the furloughs without being subject to the 5 percent pay cuts that the white-collar Hawaii Government Employees Association agreed to and which were imposed on the teachers in the state’s “last, best and final offer” that is now before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.

Also, UPW members are for now free from the increase in medical insurance premiums from 40 percent to 50 percent that was imposed on the other unions.

Apparently, the main reason UPW hasn’t been given a “last, best and final offer” like the HSTA is a stalemate between Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the four county mayors.

Under state law, the governor has four votes and the mayors have one each on overlapping contracts, so the governor would need the agreement of at least one mayor to send a final offer to the UPW. So far he hasn’t had it, but there are indications he has recently won over a mayor and may be free to press the issue.

Any “last, best and final” offer would likely include a requirement that UPW members pay back the windfall they have received for three months; if UPW gets a better deal than the other unions, Abercrombie would have to extend it to HGEA under the “most favored nation” clause in its contract.

Members of UPW’s Unit 1 — custodians, cafeteria workers, laundry workers, etc. — have authorized a strike if the state imposes a contract as with HSTA, and union leaders have hinted they’ll maximize their leverage by calling it during the APEC conference, potentially shutting schools and halting vital services while President Barack Obama and other world leaders are in town.

Members of UPW’s Unit 10, health and correctional workers who don’t have the right to strike, will ultimately settle their contract by binding arbitration if there is no negotiated agreement.

HSTA can’t get its affidavits straight

September 9, 2011

The Hawaii State Teachers Association has received a stinging rebuke from the Hawaii State Labor Relations Board in its prohibited practices case against the state for implementing its “last, best and final” contract offer.

In July, HSTA filed an amended motion for interlocutory relief and tried to strike the state’s declarations of opposition on the sworn claim of HSTA attorney Rebecca Covert that Deputy Attorney James Halvorson’s affidavit didn’t contain the required statement that it was made “under penalty of law” or “under penalty of perjury.”

After an investigation, the HLRB found that Halvorson’s declaration did contain the required statement — and that the HSTA’s Wil Okabe’s declaration on the same matter did not.

The HLRB’s Sept. 2 ruling against HSTA contained a harsh slap-down of the union’s lawyers:

“The material misstatements made by Ms. Covert in her sworn affidavit, which were not corrected by Mr. (Herbert) Takahashi at the August 10, 2011 Board hearing, demonstrate an egregious and reckless disregard for the truth in this case. These statements seem intended to mislead the Board … Notice is hearby given that conduct of this nature will not be tolerated by the Board.”

The matter appears technical, but some lawyers say it could be serious enough to land HSTA lawyers before disciplinary counsel.

In the bigger picture, it seems another example of the union’s chaotic and highly antagonistic approach to the case that has left HSTA with few friends, even among other public worker unions.

New twists in teachers contract dispute

August 18, 2011

The state Ethics Commission is likely to take more flak from high places for its advisory ruling that led Sesnita Moepono, one of three members of the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, to withdraw from the prohibited practices case involving the Hawaii State Teachers Association contract.

The ethics determination was pretty much a no-brainer; Moepono’s husband is a student services coordinator in the DOE and a member of HSTA, giving her a direct financial interest in the outcome of the union’s attempt to overturn a state-imposed contract that hits members with 5-percent pay cuts and increased medical premiums.

Moepono has been open about the conflict and her integrity is not in question, but the ethics law is clear: “No employee shall take any official action directly affecting … a business or other undertaking in which he has a substantial financial interest.”

With Moepono recused, the remaining board members, Chairman Jim Nicholson and Rock Ley, will decide the case.

The three members are appointed with one representing management, one representing labor and the other representing the public. Ironically, Moepono was appointed by Abercrombie as the management representative, while Ley is the labor representative and Nicholson the public representative.

Hearings on the prohibited practices case were supposed to start this week, but got sidetracked by HSTA’s complaint that Abercrombie and the DOE engaged in improper ex parte communication with the board.

Nicholson and Ley rejected that complaint today and rescheduled the start of hearings on the main complaint for Aug. 25.

HSTA flounders in labor battle

August 17, 2011

The Hawaii State Teachers Association is making self-defeating moves in its legal fight to overturn a state-imposed contract that hits teachers with a 5-percent pay cut and a greater share of medical premiums.

The HSTA’s complaint to the state Ethics Commission that Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the Department of Education engaged in illegal ex parte communication with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board backfired when the labor board delayed hearings on the union’s prohibited practice complaint to instead hear evidence on the suggestions of bias.

That’s not what HSTA wanted at all; it was looking to take a political shot at Abercrombie and the DOE and instead winds up on the defensive explaining itself to an unamused labor board.

The ethics complaint, over a letter the employers sent to the labor board suggesting directed mediation to resolve the dispute, has even some labor lawyers scratching their heads.

The administration also sent a copy of the letter to the HSTA, making it difficult to sell an argument that the employers were operating behind the union’s back.

The other questionable move was issuing subpoenas to have top legislative leaders testify before the HLRB on the budget they passed in April that assumed a 5-percent pay cut for the teachers.

The union argues that this locked in the pay cut before negotiations concluded, denying the teachers their right to collective bargaining.

It’s another legal stretch. The Legislature often must pass a budget before all labor negotiations are done and makes its best guess on labor costs. If negotiations turn out differently, the budget is adjusted.

HSTA leaders are acting like they think they have already lost the legal battle and are instead fighting a clumsy PR war.

New hope in teachers’ labor dispute, or just hype?

August 8, 2011

It could be naive, but I’m going to take the offer of the Hawaii State Teachers Association to enter into mediation with the state in their continuing contract dispute as a sign of progress and not more posturing.

The teachers union is currently pursuing legal action against the state after Gov. Neil Abercrombie and schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi imposed the state’s “last, best and final” offer — a 5 percent pay cut and increased medical premiums — when negotiations hit an impasse.

It’s in nobody’s best interest to have the courts settle this dispute, and it’s encouraging that the union now says it’s open to mediation after the governor had said the same thing in informal comments last week on the Big Island.

According to Abercrombie, the state had reached a handshake agreement with HSTA negotiators along the lines of the contract imposed, only to have it rejected by the union’s board without putting it to a vote by teachers.

This suggests state and union negotiators were at least very close at one point, and it’s puzzling that HSTA never made a counteroffer stating its objections to what its negotiators had agreed to and indicating what it would take to satisfy the board.

Such a counteroffer should be the first step in any productive mediation process.

Teachers play political card in contract dispute

July 28, 2011

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.

Give the kids a place at the table in school contract talks

July 6, 2011

It’s disappointing that the stalled contract negotiations between the state and public school teachers appear to be focused entirely on pay and benefits, with little discussion of promised reforms to improve student learning.

After the furlough Fridays fiasco, the Legislature tried to mollify angry parents with new laws requiring a minimum of 180 instruction days a year and more hours of the school day devoted to instruction.

In its successful application for a $75 million federal “Race to the Top” grant, the Department of Education and unions representing teachers and principals promised to immediately work toward performance-based contracts for teachers and principals based in large part on improving the poor performance of Hawai‘i  students in standardized national tests.

From what his been disclosed publicly, these issues have not been significantly addressed in negotiations between the state and teachers union, which hit an impasse over the state’s demand that teachers take a 5 percent pay cut and pay a bigger share of their medical premiums.

Nor were these reforms a significant part of earlier state negotiations with the Hawaii Government Employees Association, in which the principals accepted the pay and health insurance terms teachers balked at.

Admittedly, recessionary times that require pay cuts to balance the state budget aren’t the best environment to seek more work and accountability from teachers and principals, but neither is a bad economy a license to abandon promises both sides have made to put a structure in place to better achieve the mission of the public schools.

We always say that the school system in first and foremost about the needs of the kids. When it comes down to brass tacks, however, it always seems to be more about what’s in it for the adults.

I look more closely at the standoff on the teachers contract in my column in today’s Star-Advertiser, “Teachers union should settle contract mess outside of court.”


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