Teachers, governor: Let’s talk

LIHU‘E — Dozens of Kaua‘i educators rallied Saturday in Puhi to urge Gov. Neil Abercrombie to return to the bargaining table with the Hawai‘i State Teachers Association.

The governor was in town to meet with his advisory board during a luncheon at Kaua‘i Foreign Cars. Teachers got wind of the meeting and decided to take advantage of the opportunity.

“Teachers on Kaua‘i felt it was necessary to do everything in their power to influence the governor to go back to the negotiations table,” said Tom Perry, the HSTA’s Kaua‘i director. “Today was an example of teachers taking even more of their personal time to do what’s best for the students of Hawai‘i. Hopefully, this will convince the governor to tell his negotiators to return to the bargaining table.”

Abercrombie said he and his team are ready and waiting.

“I’ve been ready to do that since mid-June and not one single word or one single offer has been made by the HSTA to do it,” he told the crowd of teachers. “It may be in the newspaper. It may be floating in the atmosphere, you may be talking to one another about it, but there’s a very simple proposition: you sit down at the table. Nobody from the HSTA has done that.

“The only place you’ve gone is to the Labor Board and you’ve put in one motion after another to even keep the Labor Board from being able to make a decision.”

The HSTA has filed a complaint with the Hawai‘i Labor Relations Board alleging the state bargained in bad faith and violated members’ rights by imposing a contract offer.

Perry said that despite the governor’s use of metaphors saying everyone needs to paddle together, the teachers believe he bailed on them in the last 10 days before their contract expired.

“We’re asking him to bring his steering paddle and get back into the canoe,” Perry said. “He is the first governor in the history of Hawai‘i that has ever imposed a last, best and final offer before our contract had expired. So we’re hoping that he will use his influence to bring all the parties back to the negotiations table so that we can settle this contract once and for all.”

Abercrombie shares the teachers’ concerns and remains willing to return to the table to negotiate contracts but has not yet received a formal invitation from HSTA, spokespersons for the governor said.

“We’re going to be respectful of the process,” Donalyn Dela Cruz said. “We’re not going to force anything.”

Abercrombie told the teachers Saturday that he would be willing to return to the table that afternoon.

“It seems to me the difficulty in terms of actually being able to sit down and negotiate is within the HSTA itself,” the governor said. “I’m ready. My people are ready. Our negotiators are ready and have been ready since mid-June. As far as I can see no HSTA negotiator has taken one single step physically or otherwise to sit down and do the negotiating.”

Perry said the union has procedures to follow but hopes to set up a meeting as soon as possible.

Perry declined to comment on what specifically the teachers hope to gain from a fresh round of negotiations, should that process come to fruition.

“We don’t want to negotiate in the public,” he said. “We want both sides to negotiate in the appropriate format.”

Abercrombie said not knowing exactly what part of the contract is unacceptable has been a part of the problem.

“I have very little confidence in someone that tells me they have an agreement and then tells me that they don’t,” the governor said.

A teacher videotaping the exchange Saturday said they can’t present what they want until they’re at the bargaining table again.

Terry Low, who is in his 18th year teaching English at Kaua‘i High School, said he is frustrated by the governor waiting for a formal invite to return to negotiations.

“But he did say if he’s invited back he’ll come. If in fact he’ll do that, we’re happy,” Low said. “He doesn’t want to go through a legal process but neither does the HSTA. It’s expensive to go through a legal challenge.”

Low said binding arbitration through a third neutral party seems “more than fair.”

The governor questioned why he would agree to arbitration before a counter offer was presented or mediation was attempted.

“We’ll see what happens,” Low said. “I’m telling the union that they need to be very clear.”

Abercrombie said it would behoove the teachers to go back to their union negotiators, tell them they’re ready to talk, pick a date, pick a time and show up.

Low noted that most of the teachers who had gathered for the rally had left before Abercrombie came out of his meeting with his advisory board to talk to them.

He said teachers were outside chanting “talk to us, talk to us” for about 20 minutes until the governor came outside.

“To his credit, he did come out and talk to us,” Perry said. “It was a really good conversation.”

There are some 700 teachers on Kaua‘i and 13,500 statewide, Perry said.

A video of the governor’s impromptu talk with the teachers is available on thegardenisland.com

• Nathan Eagle, managing editor, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 227) or neagle@thegardenisland.com.


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