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Abercrombie says he's ready to negotiate with teachers union

The governor's remarks are posted on YouTube

By Michael Tsai

POSTED:
LAST UPDATED: 08:00 a.m. HST, Aug 29, 2011



It's hardly viral — just a scant 47 views to its name as of early Sunday evening — but a YouTube video of Gov. Neil Abercrombie speaking with a small group of Kauai teachers on Saturday may offer a bit of hope that the governor and the Hawaii State Teachers Association could return to the negotiation table sometime soon.

The video — accessible at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Y1kxi_GKFcM — captures a 10-minute exchange between Abercrombie and about nine teachers, including HSTA Kauai Director Tom Perry, in an outside parking lot purportedly in Puhi, where Abercrombie was having lunch.

Early on in the mostly civil conversation, and again toward the end, Abercrombie indicates that he is ready and willing to meet with HSTA negotiators.

"I would do it this afternoon," he says as the video opens.

But in an e-mailed response early this morning, HSTA President Wil Okabe said the governor is the one who walked away from talks and the union wants to go to arbitration.

The two sides have been engaged in a testy public exchange of allegations since Abercrombie imposed a "last, best and final offer" based on what he said were terms already agreed upon by both sides. HSTA filed a complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board arguing that the state did not bargain in good faith and that it violated its members rights by imposing the contract.

In the YouTube video, Abercrombie and Perry rehash many of the already well-documented talking points on the impasse.

At one point, Perry reminds Abercrombie of the union's early support of his gubernatorial campaign and quotes Abercrombie's own exhortation that everybody paddle in the same canoe.

"What we feel is, right now, there were 10 days left in that canoe race and you jumped out of the canoe," Perry says in the clip."You are the only person in this state who can bring everybody back. What we're asking from you is to find that steering paddle and get back in the canoe."

Abercrombie responds by saying he'll take the 4 p.m. plane back to Honolulu and invites HSTA leaders to meet with him that evening.

Okabe said the Kauai union members shared their video with HSTA leadership.

"You will hear the Governor say again and again that he has lost faith in HSTA's negotiators," Okabe said. "But, he hasn't given a reason to have faith in him: he imposed his contract on us, hired an anti-union lawyer, interfered with the labor board, and refused a neutral arbitrator.

"But an arbitrator is exactly what's needed when people lose faith in one another."

In the video, Abercrombie also says, repeatedly, that he has been waiting for HSTA leaders to discuss their concerns with the contract and, if necessary, to make a counter-proposal.

"I asked, the superintendent asked, the chief negotiator, the board of education — what is it that is not acceptable to you?" Abercrombie says. "That was asked in mid-June and it is now almost the end of August and we never received word."

The exchange effectively ends with Perry agreeing to go back to the union leadership to help arrange a time to meet with the governor. The media-savvy Abercrombie then uses the final minute or so to speak directly to the camera.

"I'm ready, my people are ready, our negotiators are ready (and) have been ready since mid-June," he says. "As far as I can see, no HSTA negotiator has taken one single step physically or otherwise to sit down to do the actual negotiating you're speaking of. I think this gentleman here (Perry) has the right idea. Go back to your people who are doing the negotiating and tell them the governor is ready and has been ready since mid-June. There's a very simple way to test it:

"Pick a date, pick a time and show up."

 






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