Substitute teachers being recruited by union organizers

Substitute teachers on Kaua’i are being asked to join an O’ahu-based union seeking to organize 5,200 substitute teachers statewide.

Should the organizing effort by the Laborers’ International Union of North America , Local 368, AFL-CIO be successful, job stability and career opportunities for the teachers will be significantly improved, said John Hoff, chairman for a union organizing committee on Kaua’i.

Substitute teachers across the state are not currently unionized, but when and if they are, they will have a way to file grievances and to resolve complains dealing with back pay, blacklisting and medical benefits, union representatives said.

“After years of often being alienated and abused, substitute teachers are finally taking the first step to unify into a cohesive body under local 368,” said Hoff, a full-time substitute, auto-shop teacher at Kaua’i High School.

Folks in Hawai’i’s’ construction industry make up the bulk of the union’s membership.

Local 368 is moving steadily ahead in its mission to organize substitute teachers across the state, said Jimmy Kuroiwa, a union representative and organizer.

The union held its first Kaua’i meeting at the Wilcox Elementary School cafeteria on Nov. 25.

Although the attendance was small, “enthusiasm filled the room,” and substitute teachers unanimously agreed to organize under the union, Kuroiwa said in a news release.

A second meeting is scheduled to be held in the same school cafeteria between 3:30 p.m. and 5:30 p.m. on Dec. 17.

The Kaua’i substitute teachers, whose numbers were not immediately available, look forward to becoming an “independent, substantial and positive force with the educational system in the state of Hawai’i,” Hoff said.

Many job-related issues that are important to the teachers were discussed at the union’s first meeting, which was conducted by Kuroiwa.

Those issues deal with back pay, medical and unemployment benefits, collective bargaining representation to address issues that include disputes with the state Department of Education and school or classroom concerns, Kuroiwa said.

Teachers also had questions about “projected” state plans to disqualify long-term substitute teachers who don’t meet new degree requirements, Kuroiwa said.

In order for Local 368 to become the official representative for the substitute teachers, 1500 of them must sign authorization cards, Kuroiwa said.

Sign-up efforts across the state have been encouraging so far, he said. On Kauai, about 100 teachers have signed the cards and the goal is to get another 100 teachers to do so, Kuroiwa said.

The required number of cards will then be sent to the National Labor Relations Board, which will hold an election among teachers to decide whether they want to be represented by Local 368, Kuroiwa said.

If support for unionization is favorable, the union will create an entity to negotiate contracts with the DOE, Kuroiwa said.

Gov. Linda Lingle has the power to appoint Local 368 as the exclusive bargaining agent for the teachers, Kuroiwa also said.

The union sent a proposal letter to that effect to Lingle on Nov. 18, said Kuroiwa, adding that “we hope to meet with her soon now that she has officially taken office.”

Hoff said “we look forward to working with her administration and becoming part of the solution to correct problems in our public education system.”

In the past, the Hawai’i State Teachers Association sought to organize substitute teaches, but was barred by law from doing so, Kuroiwa said.

HSTA has since lobbied the state Legislature for a change in the law to allow it to represent the substitute teachers, he said.

Kaua’i substitute teachers interested in joining Local 368 can call Hoff at 332-9745. The union’s web site is www. local 368.org.

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