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UH professors get to ride in the pay-raise canoe

By Richard Borreca

LAST UPDATED: 02:23 p.m. HST, Aug 05, 2011

Welcome to the christening of a new canoe. If you are a University of Hawaii professor, please step in. If you don't belong to UHPA, this is not your canoe.

Even if you are a state worker and despite what Gov. Neil Abercrombie says about everyone being in the same canoe, you are definitely not in this canoe.

This is the pay-raise canoe. The other canoe for public employees is the pay-cut canoe — climb in and try not to splash on the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly members' canoe.

With the start of a new fiscal year last Friday, UHPA members are two years into a unprecedented second six-year contract, The latest deal started back in July of 2009 with salaries reduced by 6.7 percent. Salaries went back up to 2009 rates on Friday and the state is required to start paying back the pay cut and also start the process of giving profs a 3 percent raise.

That's right: While Gov. Abercrombie is ordering up 5 percent state worker pay cuts, the profs get their money back plus 3 percent more.

"It is important to remember that the state budget reflects a 5 percent temporary pay reduction and 50/50 split on health care premiums and those cost reductions are to be distributed throughout all state agencies," Abercrombie said in an open letter to state workers released last week.

Although UHPA and Abercrombie are tight political buddies, the new contract is the result of some canny bargaining by J.N. Musto, UHPA's long-serving executive director with the University of Hawaii, and the agreement of former Gov. Linda Lingle.

Today it stands as a marker for patient negotiations. During the labor talks, UH and the Lingle administration insisted that it could impose its own contract on professors, if the unions failed to agree to terms. The union disagreed, they went to court and management lost.

The UHPA contract had something called an "evergreen clause," meaning that if terms cannot be agreed to, the old contract continues until there is a new contract.

That is how the state and the public worker unions have usually bargained, but UHPA was the first union to formally put it in writing.

UHPA's other advantage was bargaining for a long contract. Most state contracts are for two years, although during Gov. John Waihee's terms, some unions had four-year deals.

"It helps if you can think beyond next Tuesday," said one of those involved in the negotiations.

Today, it is the state Legislature that is thinking long-term. Lawmakers think UH and Lingle gave away the store by signing the six-year deal.

In the budget conference committee report, lawmakers point to the new contract, noting it is the Legislature's "first opportunity to consider the agreement."

"Your committee on conference believes the negotiated collective bargaining agreement may be overly generous, given the larger fiscal context and the state's need to achieve labor savings and other state collective bargaining agreements," the report said, indicating that the Legislature was not amused.

To drive home that point, the Legislature said that the faculty pay raises and salary adjustments would have to come from the UH, either though raising tuition, cutting costs or juggling programs.

Who pays may be uncertain, but it is clear that UHPA has its own canoe and it is real nice.

Richard Borreca writes on politics on Sundays, Tuesdays and Fridays. Reach him at rborreca@staradvertiser.com.

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