Business Union leader says senator acted like a bully at hearing By Kristen Consillio March 31, 2015 Mahalo for supporting Honolulu Star-Advertiser. Enjoy this free story! STAR-ADVERTISERRosalyn Baker: The senator is chairwoman of the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee Read more Mahalo for reading the Honolulu Star-Advertiser! You're reading a premium story. Read the full story with our Print & Digital Subscription. Subscribe Now Read this story for free: Watch an ad or complete a survey Log In Already a subscriber? Log in now to continue reading this story. Activate Digital Account Print subscriber but without online access? Activate your Digital Account now. The head of Hawaii’s largest public employee union sharply criticized Sen. Roz Baker for "bullying" rank-and-file union members who testified earlier this month against a controversial bill to privatize three Maui County hospitals. The Hawaii Government Employees Association said Baker treated members rudely as they gave testimony March 19 before the Senate Committees on Health and Commerce and Consumer Protection opposing a bill to authorize a private entity to assume control of the state-owned Maui Memorial Medical Center, Kula Hospital and Lanai Community Hospital. The union said Baker (D, West Maui-South Maui), chairwoman of the Commerce and Consumer Protection Committee, was "abrasive and condescending," shaking her head and speaking audibly with another senator as members were testifying. In addition, HGEA said she called the union and testifiers disingenuous and "flatly refused to allow one member to testify." Baker said Monday she is not going to comment on the union accusations. "Your shameless grandstanding lacks basic courtesy and respect, and is not tolerated in any forum, let alone at the state Capitol," Randy Perreira, executive director of the HGEA, which has more than 42,000 members, said in a March 20 letter to Baker and the Senate. "Public hearings are an opportunity for the general public to weigh in on legislation and are a fundamental part of our democratic process. While we can agree to disagree on policy issues based on merit, your patronizing behavior toward testifiers is strictly unaccept- able. The way you conducted yourself was shameful." Baker has been a strong proponent of legislation authorizing the financially distressed hospitals — part of the Hawaii Health Systems Corp. — to partner with a private health care provider. HGEA, the main opponent of the proposed public-private partnership, said it is concerned about the future of approximately 800 union members working at Maui Memorial and about 50 more at Kula, as well as obligating taxpayers to subsidize a private operator for years to come. "All I want to do is continue to advocate for all the people on Maui who need quality health care services," she said. "That’s the only way that in this new health care era we’re going to be able to continue to provide quality services and survive. There’s just not enough resources at the state level to continue to provide support." Perreira said he was not present at the hearing, but received complaints from both staff as well as union members who took vacation to participate in the legislative process. The union said it has endorsed Baker a number of times, including in the most recent election. "This has been a pattern this woman has demonstrated over the years," Perreira said. "Elected officials have a right to their own opinions, but there is a certain decorum. She crossed the line with her conduct." Joey Savino, an HGEA member from Kauai, said in a video released by the union that he went to the Capitol for the first time to testify against the hospital privatization bill when Baker blatantly began to whisper to another senator as he was speaking. "It was a very horrible experience because I expect more from my elected officials," Savino said. The public hospitals in Maui County announced Friday they are moving forward on a plan to cut $28 million in services and jobs starting July 1. Maui Memorial said it was already forced to close its adolescent behavioral health unit due to a lack of state funding. The Maui region hospitals said their deficits have grown substantially largely due to unfunded collective-bargaining increases for their 1,500 employees, whose salary and benefits are negotiated by the state. HGEA said a lot of HHSC’s financial problems have stemmed from mismanagement. It is lobbying for bills that will centralize personnel, purchasing and other administrative functions within the "inefficient" public hospital system and is also calling for an audit of HHSC. This is not the first time Baker has been called out for her conduct in legislative hearings. In 2012, Kokua Council and the League of Women Voters of Hawaii complained that Baker behaved rudely and was hostile to consumer advocates wanting to testify on the nominees to the board of the Hawaii Health Connector, the state health insurance exchange created by the Affordable Care Act, according to news reports. "Being in elected office for 22 years does not grant you impunity and far too many have tolerated your bullying for too long," Perreira wrote in the letter to Baker. ENLARGE PHOTO. Previous Story Student loan recipients go on repayment strike, face default Next Story Study: Honolulu traffic third-worst in U.S.