Last week, Gov. Neil Abercrombie chose to implement the Department of Education’s "last, best and final" offer to the Hawaii State Teachers Association. The decision disregarded the union’s prior rejection of the offer and put an end to any further negotiations. Needless to say, this came as a surprise to HSTA leadership, and all public union members. The question being asked is, "Can he do this?" The likely answer is, "Yes."
However, the governor’s offer was communicated not only to the HSTA bargaining committee and its board, but also directly to the HSTA general membership. This may be a problem for him. If the DOE and HSTA were not at a formal impasse (which must by law be communicated to the Hawaii Labor Relations Board), but instead still negotiating, Abercrombie’s letter may have been a breach of the existing law. The HSTA board has the exclusive right to represent the teachers and the employer is prohibited from communicating directly with union members regarding any offer.
The union has already said it will fight this action, as it must, because this has the potential to set a precedent. Considering the state’s dire fiscal condition, HSTA may eventually need to agree to the deal.
Unfortunately, due to the governor’s actions, the disagreement has grown larger than the terms. It’s now about who is doing what to whom, which is how animosity grew between Gov. Linda Lingle and the unions.
It appears that Abercrombie has forgotten that unions worked hard to get him in the governor’s chair. In return, he promised no more furlough days, and just as important, no more animosity.
Unfortunately, the leadership Abercrombie promised during the campaign hasn’t yet materialized. On almost every issue that has come into public view, he has been without a comprehensive plan and seems to lack forethought and even common sense when communicating with his constituents.
Seemingly without a review of their performance, and in the absence of naming their replacements, the governor asked for the resignations of department heads. This may be his right, but it wasn’t handled with the finesse one expects of a seasoned manager.
He promised transparency, but abruptly ended an eight-year tradition of publicly sharing the names of judgeship candidates. He claimed that publicizing the names might reduce the number of applicants, which is contrary to the opinions expressed by many judges and legal experts.
He said he would address the needs of seniors, but proposed that their pension income should be taxed. Perhaps so, but wouldn’t it be more appropriate if this came as part of an overall review of income tax exemptions and loopholes?
He blasted the agreement with the NFL as if he’d never seen it, saying that the $4 million payment to them was a "bribe." His unplanned rant was again an isolated jab at an issue that perhaps deserves a more comprehensive and thoughtful review.
More troubling is that he appears to be going back on a major campaign promise: not to raise the general excise tax. During the session, he as much as told legislators that if they sent him a bill that included an increase in the GET, he would sign it.
While the governor is getting on-the-job training, I hope he doesn’t forget who helped him get the job and why they voted for him. I’ve been his long-time supporter and think he is talented, energetic and persuasive. These are all good qualities, and they helped him get elected governor, the first time. Whether or not he becomes more than a one-term governor may depend on whether he sticks to his campaign promises and surrounds himself with an effective team that will help him meet some of the most vexing problems since statehood.