State Hiring Outside Help in Teacher’s Union Dispute

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BY JIM DOOLEY – The state wants $50,000 worth of private legal help in its contract dispute with the public teachers union.

The Attorney General’s office yesterday said it plans to award a $50,000 non-bid contract to attorney Robert S. Katz, whose law firm regularly represents employers in disputes with workers.

Robert S. Katz

Katz has expertise on legal issues surrounding Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s decision to unilaterally impose the state’s “last, best and final” contract offer upon the Hawaii State Teachers Association, the Attorney General’s office said.

The new contract, which the governor imposed July 1, contains five per cent pay reductions and increases health insurance premiums paid by public school teachers.

HSTA has filed a complaint with the state Labor Relations Board alleging that the governor’s decision to impose the new contract on teachers violates collective bargaining laws.

David M. Louie, state attorney general

“Mr. Katz is uniquely qualified to provide legal and consulting services,” said the procurement proposal, signed by Attorney General David Louie.

“He has expertise with (the) public sector ‘last, best and final offer’ principle in collective bargaining from the employer perspective,” Louie wrote.

“In our department’s memory, the only other time this issue was the center of a controversy was when UHPA (the union that represents University of Hawaii professors) sued the state and in that case Mr. Katz was the lead attorney representing the state,” said the contract proposal.

In that case, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly went to court last year to block UH President M.R.C. Greenwood’s threat to impose a “last best and final offer” in contract talks with professors.

The state and UHPA settled the issue when a new contract was approved by union members.

Louie’s non-bid contract proposal, submitted to the state Procurement Office, said the state doesn’t have time to competitively award the contract.

“Because the case has already commenced and the public school year is set to start in early August, there is not adequate time for the state to advertise for attorneys,” the proposal said.

“It is urgent that an attorney of Mr. Katz’s qualifications and abilities be engaged as soon as possible,” Louie wrote.