Union Power in Hawaii Creates Future Debt

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BY MALIA HILL – Collective bargaining between Hawaii state employees and state government has been something of a . . . contentious topic in recent weeks.  And I’ve noticed that those who advance positions that are not completely pro-union tend to get a lot of nasty hate mail.  So I would like to begin by pointing out that this particular blog entry was written by Charlie Sheen.

The problem seems to be that we, the non-state-employee taxpayers are represented in these negotiations by people who are not necessarily thinking of their position as safeguarding the economic future of Hawaii or the burden placed on regular citizens.  And the position of the unions is quite straightforward.  Plus, they have the ability to shut down necessary public services, making us taxpayers and citizens all the more annoyed and frustrated.  So that even when we’re sinking in budget and pension problems, we get negotiation results like the recent agreement for compensatory time (in other words, days off) for state employees.  From the invaluable Greg Wiles of Hawaii Reporter:


Recent labor union settlements negotiated between the state and labor organizations will give thousands of workers at least four days off on a paid basis and bring an end to their furloughs.

The state said it believes the agreements negotiated with the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) and the United Public Workers (UPW) unions won’t increase its labor costs, though a former Gov. Linda Lingle Administration executive said the state may end up footing a bigger payroll bill.

. . . .

But perhaps more significantly, the deals includes something known as Compensatory Time Off, which past and present government executives said can be taken as paid days off or cash payments.

The federal/special funded employees are to receive 32 hours of Compensatory Time Off in return for four furlough days taken during the months of February and March. Some employees may get up to 88 hours in Compensatory Time Off.

Material given to the Hawaii Public Housing Authority directors and posted on the agency’s website also says under the UPW all furloughed employees shall receive 56 hours of Compensatory Time Off.  The directors were told the settlement agreement will involve the majority of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority staff.

“The termination of the furlough requirements for the UPW and HGEA will impact the Hawaii Public Housing Authority fiscally; the agency will have to pay 100% of salaries and provide four days (32 hr.) of compensatory time off for each of the filled positions which are currently either 100 percent federal or 100% special funded,” the memo to Hawaii Public Housing Authority directors says.

. . . .

Others have questioned why the state would give workers pay for not working in resolving a situation involving furloughs.

Moreover, there are questions if the state can use federal funds for the payments. Added payroll costs would come at a time when the state is facing budget deficit because of lower tax collections. Over the next two years the deficit is expected to be more than $1 billion.

Ted Hong, chief state negotiator during the Gov. Linda Lingle’s Administration, said he did not know specifically about the settlements, but believes the state might have a higher labor bill.

He said typically the federal government does not fund payments that involve comp time or overtime, and that the state may have to foot the bill this portion of the Compensatory Time Off given the workers.

Hong said typically Compensatory Time Off recipients can choose to take the time off or receive cash. That could lead to a situation where workers cash in the Compensatory Time Off in the years leading up to their retirement, adding to the salary figures used in calculating their pensions.

He said the employees might also elect to take Compensatory Time Off payments on a day they earn overtime, and possibly qualify for double-overtime pay.

Has anyone else started to notice a pattern here?  It seems that every time the state negotiates with the state union, it ends up creating more and more “future debt”.  Eventually, that bill isn’t going to be able to be pushed off any longer.