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Teachers union's reaction unclear as state-imposed contract kicks in

By Mary Vorsino

LAST UPDATED: 2:32 a.m. HST, Jul 1, 2011

Five percent wage reductions and increased health insurance premiums for Hawaii's 12,700 public school teachers were to be unilaterally implemented today, in an extraordinary move that the state says is necessary under a tight budget.

It remained unclear Thursday how the teachers union would respond to the state's action.

Hawaii State Teachers Association spokeswoman Teri Tanaka said in an email that it is "our goal is to continue bargaining in good faith."

HSTA President Wil Okabe, who is in Chicago for the National Education Association's annual conference, did not return multiple phone messages for comment.

An HSTA update posted on the private, members-only section of the website Wednesday said the union is "working to get the best contract we can for our members."

"We understand the precarious position teachers are in and we want to assure you that we will continue to work with all parties through these difficult times," the note said.

The Department of Education announced last week its plan to put a "last, best and final" contract offer into effect, after declaring an impasse in negotiations with HSTA.

The DOE's two-year contract with teachers expired Thursday.

The governor and schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi have said the "last, best" offer is needed to achieve 5 percent labor savings and put changes in place before the new school year begins Aug. 1.

DOE spokeswoman Sandy Goya said Thursday the plan to implement the new contract proposal was moving ahead.

No negotiations with HSTA were planned.

The "last, best" offer, which kicks in today, includes a 1.5 percent pay cut and 7 furlough days for 10-month teachers or nine furlough days for 12-month teachers. Teachers will also have to pay 50 percent of their health insurance premiums, up from 40 percent.

For 12-month teachers the wage reduction will start showing up in paychecks July 20. For 10-month employees it will be reflected starting Aug. 20.

The DOE is working to designate the furlough days for the upcoming school year.

The Department of Education's move to unilaterally impose its "last, best" contract offer is unprecedented in Hawaii.

"We've never had a case where a governor has implemented new working conditions and hours and pay," said Michael Nauyokas, a local labor attorney.

Nauyokas said HSTA could seek to stop the wage cuts through the courts or file a "prohibited practice charge" with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. The union could also call for a strike vote or continue negotiations with a federal mediator.

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