National Report: Hawaii Teachers Union Dominates

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Hawaii has been ranked number one – this time for the strength of its monopoly teacher union, the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

Thomas B. Fordham Institute and Education Reform Now, its most recent report, offer “the most comprehensive analysis of American teacher unions’ strength ever conducted.” (See the full study here.)


The report offers a State-By-State Comparison of power and influence of their respective teachers unions. Specifically the study reviewed resources and membership; involvement in politics; scope of bargaining; state policies; and perceived influence.

Hawaii ranked first overall. “Hawaii’s teacher union enjoys substantial financial resources, a large, unified membership, and a favorable policy climate. It is actively involved in state politics, and—despite its local reputation for only moderate influence—it is the strongest state union in the nation,” the report said.

The state also tied for first place for its involvement in politics. “Hawaii’s teacher union has been a major player in state politics in the past ten years. Its donations accounted for 1.5 percent of total contributions received by candidates for state office (9th); those contributions equaled 15.4 percent of all contributions from the ten highest-giving sectors in the state (7th). In addition, a full 20.2 percent of Hawaii’s delegates to the Democratic and Republican national conventions were teacher union members (9th).”

The study notes Hawaii is one of 21 states with collective bargaining, which permits unions to collect fees from non-member teachers. Hawaii law explicitly prohibits bargaining over four: management rights, transfers, layoffs, and pension/retirement benefits, the report said.

Hawaii policies are closely aligned with traditional union interests, the report said. “State law does not require that teacher evaluations include student achievement data. Further, it grants tenure virtually automatically after just two years (one of only six states that confer tenure in fewer than three years), and layoff decisions are based solely on seniority rather than teacher performance. Compared to most other states, Hawaii teachers contribute less to their pensions than their employers do, and the state’s teacher-dismissal rate is the 12th-lowest in the country, with just 1.1 percent dismissed each year because of poor performance. Hawaii law also does not favor charter schools: The state places a cap with limited room for growth on the number of charters that can operate, allows for only a single authorizer, and requires that all charter schools be part of existing collective bargaining agreements (although they can apply for exemptions),” the report said.

Hawaii ranked lower at 23rd when it comes to “perceived influence.” The report said: “Despite the union’s considerable resources, when compared to respondents in other states, Hawaii stakeholders perceive the strength of their union to be moderate, on par with that of the state school board and association of school administrators. They agree that the HSTA fought hard in light of recent budgetary constraints to prevent reductions in pay and benefits and that the union is generally effective in protecting dollars for education. But they report that policies proposed by the governor in the latest legislative session and those actually enacted were only somewhat in line with union priorities.4 The perception of limited influence despite substantial resources could indicate that the state union is maintaining a low profile in a favorable environment, may reflect the union’s recent clashes with state leaders (see sidebar), or potentially illustrates the union’s waning reputation after the state famously (or infamously) briefly implemented a four-day week in the fall of 2009 as a belt-tightening measure.”

Other states with teachers union to rank as the most powerful include California, Oregon, Washington, Montana, Illinois, New York, Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Rhode Island.





  1. Too bad the report doesn't mention how Hawaii education, grades 3-12 ranks overall in testing performance compared nationwide. Hawaii ranks at the bottom in most if not all areas.

    It is also interesting that Hawaii teacher pay isn't anymore significant than what teachers are paid in Right to Work States; especially when you consider the massive cost of living difference from the mainland to Hawaii.

    When it comes to teacher retirement, Pew Research ranks Hawaii very low compared to all other states.

    Teachers in Hawaii think they are getting a bargain when it comes to Union Membership when in reality they are getting taken to the cleaners.

    My opinion is that The Union is the government and the government is the Union and when they "negotiate" they put on a dog and pony show for the public and the teachers to make it look like a real fight when in fact it has all been decided in the back room way long ago.

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