Friday, November 27, 2015         

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HSTA considers mediation

By Mary Vorsino


The executive board of the teachers union will meet Monday to discuss whether to accept Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s offer to enter federal mediation in hopes of ending a 13-month labor dispute.

Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe said this morning he was “open to the discussion,” but declined to say whether he personally supported the idea.

In a letter to Okabe this week, Gov. Neil Abercrombie wrote, “My proposal to utilize the FMCS (Federal Mediation and Concilitation Service) is not about establishing who is right or who is wrong, but rather to reengage HSTA in discussions which can lead to a resolution of the issues that separate us.”

The HSTA labor dispute began in 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 recent months, the state has repeatedly asked teachers to return to the bargaining table, while the union believes a six-year agreement teachers had previously rejected, then approved in May should be honored. Abercrombie has called the agreement invalid and says a new deal needs to be negotiated. 

The lack of movement on the issues means teachers continue working under the “last, best” offer, which expires June 30.

Under the agreement union members approved in May, teachers would continue to take 5 percent wage reductions through June 30, before moving to a new salary schedule that recognizes teachers’ years of service.

The state Department of Education would also move to a revised teacher evaluation system linked to student performance. Teachers rated “effective” or higher would be eligible for annual raises.

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