The sign — a mock report card — shows an A for “Recess,” an A for “Lunch,” an A+ for “Nap” and an F for “Listening.”
The man holding the sign is positioned alongside Beretania with other picketers. They are all middle-aged, wearing the same stoic expression and identical T-shirts that read: “Teachers Stand Together.”
The report card is for former Gov. Ben Cayetano.
The year is 2001, and these protesters — Hawaii public school teachers and members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association — are rallying as part of a 20-day strike aimed at Cayetano and his proposal for a new labor contract.
That was a different time and a different governor. There are no teachers protesting outside the Capitol — yet, but educators seem no less angry today at Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s implementation of a contract they didn’t approve of.
Last Friday, the Hawaii Department of Education enacted its new two-year contract with 12,700 Hawaii teachers. But the HSTA argues it did not approve the contract and that Abercrombie broke the “good faith” clause by publicizing his offer. The governor, on the other hand, says the union shook hands on the agreement.
A look at the 2001 crisis offers a glimpse into what a standoff might look like.
Teachers at Picket Lines: HSTA vs. Cayetano
Plans to strike in 2001 emerged after Cayetano and teachers disagreed over contract proposals even after last-minute negotiations.
The most heated debate revolved around pay: Salary deals in Cayetano’s proposed contract fell more than $100 million short of teachers’ demands. Many teachers testified that they have one of the lowest-paying professions in the country in a state that has a particularly high cost of living.
The HSTA proposed teacher salary increases that would have cost the state about $200 million. After some compromise, the state drew up a deal that would have cost it $93 million, but the union rejected the offer, saying it wasn’t enough to address the teacher shortage or prevent teachers from abandoning the profession and the state.
The 20-day strike saw some 99 percent of all public school teachers, or 12,000 teachers, walk out between April 5 and April 25.
(About 3,000 University of Hawaii professors also participated in the strike through their union, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, but settled on an agreement with the state about a week before school teachers did.)
Their battle dominated local media. Newspapers tracked the strike each day.
Protesters were persistent, pressuring local residents and the governor to hear their demands. They had traded chalkboards for megaphones, asking drivers to honk as they wore large hats to keep out the sun.
Statewide, they were on the streets rain or shine, unabashedly railing against Cayetano with signs like “Why Ben?” and “Ben doesn’t meet standards.”
“Attract and keep teachers with peanuts?” one picketer’s sign said. “Are you nuts?”
They asserted to Cayetano — and the rest of Hawaii — that they were irreplaceable.
“I can NOT afford to teach here. Hawaii can NOT afford to lose me,” read one teacher’s sign.
Ultimately, the strike came to a close after 85 percent of teachers approved a new two-year deal. The contract didn’t give them everything they wanted, but it did include 10 percent across-the-board pay raises over two years and other incentives for teachers.
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