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Sunday, December 21, 2014         

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HSTA called mightiest U.S. teachers union

By Mary Vorsino

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The head of the Hawaii State Teachers Association says he's "pleased" with the findings of a new national report that shows HSTA is the strongest teachers union in the nation.

"The strong record of HSTA speaks for itself," said Wil Okabe in a statement. "We have fought and won many of the significant professional standards enjoyed by teachers throughout the nation."

The findings come as the state's labor dispute with teachers is poised to enter its 16th month.

The report concluded HSTA "enjoys substantial financial resources, a large, unified membership and a favorable policy climate."

The union is also "actively involved in state politics, and — despite its local reputation for only moderate influence — it is the strongest state union in the nation," the report said.

The Thomas B. Fordham Institute, a conservative education think tank, and advocacy group Education Reform Now, which has taken aim at teachers unions in the past, jointly released the report.

Amber Winkler, vice president for research at the Fordham Institute, said the study was not conducted for political purposes, but because "we saw a void in the literature."

"The point of this report was not to paint teachers unions in a negative light," she said. "It really is about these invisible ways that they can show power and use power."

She said Hawaii's coming in at No. 1 was a surprise, but she hypothesized Hawaii's single statewide school district — unique in the nation — may be among the factors behind HSTA's strong showing.

Of the ranking, she said, "It's not an absolute measure, but compared to other states, Hawaii probably has it better than most."

The report named Oregon's teachers union second strongest in the nation, followed by state-level unions in Montana, Pennsylvania and Rhode Island.

In his statement, Okabe said the findings of the report "may reflect that Hawaii's teachers refuse to allow the governor to impose an unfair collective bargaining agreement on us."

Okabe's statement was provided to the Star-Advertiser in response to calls for comment. He was not made available for additional questions.

The report ranked state-level teachers unions based on five areas: resources and membership, involvement in politics, scope of bargaining, state policies and perceived influence.

HSTA ranked high on all of those indicators, except for perceived influence. On that indicator it came in at 23rd in the nation.

For involvement in politics, HSTA ranked first in the nation. The report says the union has been a "major player" in Hawaii politics over the past decade and that its donations accounted for 1.5 percent of total contributions received by candidates for state office.

ON THE NET:

>> To read the report ranking the strength of state-level teachers unions nationwide, go to edexcellence.net.

In resources and membership, HSTA tied for third strongest in the country.

HSTA has been embroiled in a labor dispute since July 2011, when the state unilaterally implemented a "last, best and final" contract offer for teachers that included wage reductions and higher health insurance premiums.

The union has argued the state's imposition of a contract violated its members' rights and collective bargaining laws. The state countered it had to act to avoid massive layoffs.

In September the two sides briefly entered federal mediation, but that ended with no agreement.

The "last, best" offer expires June 30.






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