Posted tagged ‘Neil Abercrombie’

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.

Do my eyes deceive me on Waikiki homeless?

September 13, 2011

I made a few trips to Waikiki last week and found the homeless far less visible than my last visit in checks from the Elks Club end of Kapiolani Park through Ala Moana Park.

I’ve also noticed fewer homeless in once-popular areas in Kakaako.

I’ll take it as a sign that Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s homelessness initiative is making progress, although there’s cause for some wariness from reports that the Waikiki homeless are moving into abandoned properties.

The administration reported getting more than 400 people statewide off of the streets and into shelters or transitional and permanent housing in the initial 90 days of its initiative, which is a significant start in so short a time.

There’s been some suspicion that it’s mainly an attempt to clean up Waikiki and the city core for the APEC conference, but the governor and his homelessness coordinator Marc Alexander have earned credit for more commitment than that just from their willingness to set goals and accept accountability for the results.

They’ve developed some sound strategies, such as fixing public housing units that are vacant because of disrepair, identifying sub-groups of homeless and their special needs and getting public and private agencies that work with the homeless on the same page and directed toward best practices.

It’s encouraging that the liberal administration is willing to adopt tough love approaches when appropriate, such as discouraging charitable groups from feeding the homeless on the beaches and instead directing them to shelters where they can get more help than just food.

One of the first and most valuable management lessons I learned is that you never let anybody get comfortable in a bad situation that’s detrimental to both the individual and the larger community.

It’s fair to ask what society is doing to help our fellow citizens who are homeless, but it’s also fair to ask what the homeless who are capable of helping themselves are doing about it.

Those who shun available shelter space and claim the right to freely live on prime beachfront park lands and other public property because they don’t like the rules the rest of us have to follow deserve little slack.

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.

Governor must answer, ‘Where’s the beef?’

August 17, 2011

In his speech today updating constituents on the status of his “New Day” program, Gov. Neil Abercrombie once again did an excellent job of describing the major challenges that Hawai‘i faces.

But he still hasn’t gotten to the hardest part — prescribing specific remedies that a critical mass of Hawai‘i residents will support despite the sacrifices they will certainly entail.

The governor basically declared that he has state finances in the black and the wheels of government aligned more to his liking and is now ready to focus on a “gathering storm” that threatens Hawai‘i’s  future.

He identified the five elements of the threat as the massive debt we face with some $22 billion in unfunded pension and medical benefits owed public workers, soaring healthcare costs, our over-reliance on outside energy and food, inadequate support for education and social services, and the potential for huge federal funding cuts.

His solution, as always, was his “New Day” plan to create jobs around a sustainable economy, invest in our children and make state government more efficient.

Abercrombie encouraged everybody to join in the sacrifices and took aim at Hawai‘i’s status quo that he was long seen as part of.

“The status quo insists that we conform to the way things have always been,” he said. “It is obsessed with illusory short-term gain at the expense of long-term stability. It favors the few. It outflanks the middle class, and it marginalizes those who need help the most. It questions and casts doubt upon new ideas. It stifles creativity and limits opportunity.”

It’s hard to argue with his logic, but the devil will be in the details — of which he offered few.

Abercrombie’s biggest problem is that he’s burned much of the political goodwill he had after landslide victories over Mufi Hannemann and James “Duke” Aiona.

Part of it was unavoidable, such as his necessarily tough stand in union negotiations that angered some of the noisiest labor and “progressive” elements of the Democratic Party.

Demanding that his political base make the same sacrifices as everybody else should have won him points with moderates and progressives who have always been suspicious of him.

But Abercrombie unnecessarily antagonized them with missteps such as his pointless tizzy fit on the Pro Bowl, his decision to shroud judicial appointments in secrecy for no good reason and a perceived arrogance exemplified by his infamous “I’m not your pal” remark.

He needs to smooth over some of the self-inflicted ill feelings and regain political capital so that next year he can face a Legislature that disregarded many of his ideas this year from a position of greater strength.

If he’s seen as weak and lacking public confidence, it’ll be everyone for themselves and he’ll get little cooperation on the shared sacrifices he seeks.

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.


%d bloggers like this: