BY JIM DOOLEY – The new labor contract offered to the state’s largest government workers’ union “is the best settlement that could be obtained” under Hawaii’s current fiscal climate, the union told the rank-and-file this week.

The 28,000-member Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) will begin ratification voting next week on the contract. Governor Neil Abercrombie has said the deal involves a five per cent pay cut and elimination of the current two-per-month furlough days imposed in 2009 by then-Gov. Linda Lingle. The new deal would also require workers to pay 50 per cent of their health insurance premiums – up from 40 per cent paid now.

Critics have said the elimination of furlough days plus an extra nine paid days of administrative leave to be granted to union members make the pay cut far less than the five per cent cited by Abercrombie.

In a pre-ratification message to HGEA members who work at the University of Hawaii, the union described the offers and counteroffers made during the contract negotiations.

“We wanted at least one day off per month for the 5% pay cut, and a 60/40% split in premiums,” HGEA negotiators told the membership this week.

The government initially offered four extra hours off per month – the equivalent of six days per year.

“The employer’s position was inflexible on increasing the four (4) hours leave time to eight (8) hours per month. The Governor viewed the granting of one day off to be the equivalent of a furlough day, which he is on record as opposing,” the message continued.

“The employer was also unwilling to increase their share of the proposed 50/50% split in health premiums, mainly because of the state’s dire budget shortfall.” HGEA members were told.

“While we attempted to persuade the employer on this significant issue, the exclusion of health premiums from arbitration renders any negotiations on this subject moot,” members were told.

Negotiators for the University HGEA workers said they wanted to “achieve a level of parity” with University professors, who agreed to a 6.7 per cent pay cut 18 months ago but will return to full pay in July and recover all the lost wages over the next three years.

“After a meeting with the governor it became clear that a five per cent pay cut for all HGEA members was his goal,” the union message continued.

“After further negotiations, the employer increased their offer of 4 hours leave to 6 hours leave per month, or 9 days of leave per year. At that point, all negotiating teams voted to bring the offer to the members,” HGEA said.

The negotiators said three factors “weighed heavily” in the decision to accept the offer.

“First, given the serious budget deficit facing the legislature, the university will probably face serious reductions over the coming biennium. While we negotiate with the Board of Regents and UH, they are not in a position to defy the governor or the legislature. To do so can only result in additional cuts,” the union told its members.

“Second, we cannot expect a better outcome in arbitration given the poor economic condition of the state and other jurisdictions,” the union continued.

And the last factor was a “most favored nation” clause in the proposed deal that guarantees HGEA “equity with other unions currently negotiating with the employer,” the message said.

The favored nation status was first offered to HGEA by the government March 18, according to the union.

Other unions still talking contracts with government employers include those representing bluecollar workers, teachers, police and firefighters.

The favored nation clause does not include the University faculty union, which holds a contract good until 2015. In addition to restoration of pay cuts, the professors’ deal also grants three per cent pay raises in the last two years of the contract.

 

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Jim Dooley joined the Hawaii Reporter staff as an investigative reporter in October 2010. Before that, he has worked as a print and television reporter in Hawaii since 1973, beginning as a wire service reporter with United Press International. He joined Honolulu Advertiser in 1974, working as general assignment and City Hall reporter until 1978. In 1978, he moved to full-time investigative reporting in for The Advertiser; he joined KITV news in 1996 as investigative reporter. Jim returned to Advertiser 2001, working as investigative reporter and court reporter until 2010. Reach him at Jim@hawaiireporter.com