The state on Monday defended its decision to unilaterally impose a contract offer with wage reductions for teachers, saying that “collective bargaining remains important” but that the labor savings were needed to avoid lost instructional days or layoffs.
The state defended Monday its action to impose a contract offer with pay cuts for teachers:
» State’s stand: The move was needed to avoid the loss of instructional days and layoffs. The state will file an official response next week with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. The imposition of the “last, best and final” offer is part of the collective bargaining process.
» HSTA’s stand: The action is unprecedented and violates the union members’ constitutional rights. The Hawaii State Teachers Association has filed a “prohibited practice” complaint with the labor board.
The state plans to file an official response next week to the Hawaii State Teachers Association’s “prohibited practice” complaint, which alleges the imposed contract offer violated members’ rights and the state Constitution.
But on Monday the Governor’s Office reached out to community members, parents and teachers, attempting to explain the state’s actions.
“Implementing the ‘last, best and final offer’ ensures that there will be no lost instructional days, no large teacher layoffs that would increase class sizes,” the Governor’s Office said.
The website post included a list of “frequently asked questions” and answers, along with a link to the contract offer for teachers that was implemented July 1.
To the question, “Why was the state allowed to implement an agreement that was never voted on by teachers?” the Governor’s Office said, “Implementation of the ‘last, best and final offer’ is part of the collective bargaining process and a decision that was necessary to avoid the alternative of disruptions to student learning.”
The post also said, “Collective bargaining remains important as we come up with new ways of thinking and working together.”
The Department of Education implemented 1.5 percent pay cuts, furlough days and higher health insurance premiums for teachers on July 1, after declaring an impasse in negotiations with HSTA.
Local labor experts have called the state’s decision to push away from the bargaining table and implement the “last, best” offer unprecedented in Hawaii public-sector negotiations.
Federal labor law allows a private employer to implement its “last, best” offer contract if talks are determined to be at an impasse, but applying that to public-sector talks in Hawaii is uncharted territory.
Whether the state acted wrongly appears to be a question the Hawaii Labor Relations Board will answer.
The HSTA filed its “prohibited practice” complaint Friday, alleging that the state made threats of layoffs and “nasty” changes to working conditions if the union didn’t agree to pay cuts and changes to health insurance premiums.
The complaint detailed months of tense negotiations, including an exchange in which schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi told HSTA President Wil Okabe that if the union didn’t accept offered wage reductions, 800 teachers would need to be cut.
After that conversation, Okabe called a meeting of HSTA’s board for June 20, whose members unanimously rejected the state’s “last, best” offer. Three days later the DOE announced its plans to implement the proposal unilaterally.
Okabe said Monday that HSTA is still interested in returning to the bargaining table but will also vigorously fight the state’s action before the Labor Relations Board.
Meanwhile, with just weeks to go before the start of the school year, several key education reform issues that require union approval remain unresolved.
Those issues include new evaluations for some teachers, Okabe said, and minimums for instructional time.
The state has 10 days to respond to the union’s complaint, and then it will be up to the board how to proceed. HLRB could rule against the union but could also compel the state to get back to negotiations or require that the DOE return to conditions of a contract that expired June 30, until a new agreement can be reached.
Q&A | The following is an excerpt from Frequently asked questions (FAQ) posted by the state:
Question: How does implementing the terms of the “last, best and final offer” affect students?
Answer: Implementing the “last, best, and final offer” ensures that there will be no lost instructional days, no large teacher layoffs that would increase class sizes, and increased preparation time for teachers during the school week. It also gives principals, teachers, staff, parents and students advance information about the upcoming school year so that everyone can prepare.
Q: Why was the state allowed to implement an agreement that was never voted on by teachers?
A: Implementation of the “last, best and final offer” is part of the collective bargaining process, and a decision that was necessary to avoid the alternative of disruptions to student learning. The opportunity for teachers to vote was lost when the HSTA board rejected the terms agreed to by the state and HSTA’s designated negotiators.
Q: Did the state “walk away from the bargaining table”?
A: Many months of negotiations between the state and the HSTA concluded when the HSTA board rejected the final offer that was agreed to by its designated HSTA negotiators. Faced with no agreement and no counteroffer, everyone needed to prepare for the upcoming school year. Implementation of the “last, best, and final offer” was the only recourse available to begin the school year on time.
Q:Why didn’t the state give more time to the collective bargaining process with HSTA?
A: The state and HSTA had been engaged in negotiations for months knowing that the old contract was ending on June 30, 2011, and that it was important to conclude the matter in time to prepare for the new school year. Bargaining is not meant to go on indefinitely. Tentative agreements have been reached, which were included in the “last, best and final offer.” HSTA rejected this offer in total, has not provided any counteroffer and time had run out.
Q: Governor Abercrombie said he is supportive of teachers. How is this action supportive of teachers?
A: Public school teachers have sacrificed over the years and, like all public employees, they have faced a lot of criticism. Governor Abercrombie repeatedly reminds us that public workers are our neighbors, family members and friends who pay taxes and have obligations just like everyone else. Governor Abercrombie and his brother were teachers. His mother was a kindergarten teacher who was taken advantage of because she was not part of an organized union. He believes teachers should have been given the opportunity to vote on the agreement reached by their negotiators. But since that opportunity was denied, implementation of the agreed terms is the only way forward that puts education above all else in a time when all people of Hawai‘i are being asked to contribute their share.
Q: Does the implementation of this “last, best and final offer” undermine the collective bargaining process?
A: No. Implementation of the “last, best and final offer” is part of the collective bargaining process. The rights of Hawai‘i workers to collectively bargain are embedded in the state Constitution. Governor Abercrombie has been and will always be a champion of the rights of working people and the need for collective bargaining. But while the people of Hawai‘i want to hold on to our core values, they also want to change the ways that government operates to better address our current and future challenges. Collective bargaining remains important as we come up with new ways of thinking and working together.
Q: What are the next steps?
A: Governor Abercrombie, the BOE, the DOE — including principals, teachers and staff — along with parents and students are looking forward to the upcoming school year. The new school year brings the promise of improvements through President Obama’s Race to the Top initiative, capital improvement projects slated for schools across our islands, the hard work and commitment of our state’s educators and through the shared leadership of the Governor, the BOE and the DOE. On July 8, 2011, HSTA lawyers filed a complaint with the Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board. The complaint will go through the legal process, but in the meantime, the focus remains on educating our students and moving forward.