“Our old friends are no longer our friends,” President Wil Okabe wrote in a memo to the union’s rank-and-file last week.
The memo was an update on the status of the union’s labor complaint against the state for unilaterally imposing a new contract on Hawaii’s 12,500 public school teachers. But it was also a rallying cry. The message of the memo was clear: No more Mr. Nice Guy.
Okabe’s letter came a week after one union member asked HSTA to remove Abercrombie from its Facebook page “likes.”
Although Okabe encouraged teachers to live with the imposed contract until the Hawaii Labor Relations Board rules on the union’s labor complaint, he also announced that HSTA is stepping up its political activity.
The union is launching a battery of public relations blitzes and political programming.
“We can no longer accept nice words of support for education and teachers,” he wrote in the memo, dated July 20. “We will hold elected officials accountable by mounting our own political campaigns that share how politicians vote on the issues that matter to children and teachers.”
The union is also preparing “a strong legislative agenda,” Okabe said, which includes calling out the state for granting tax breaks to “a favored few, while teachers pay for school supplies out of their own pockets.” Okabe proposes giving teachers a school supplies tax credit.
Hawaii lawmakers had to make drastic cuts across the board and impose new taxes to close an estimated $1 billion budget gap over the next two years. But it’s teachers who are serving as the scapegoats, Okabe’s letter states, for “political issues that have nothing to do with closing the budget or providing the supports for students to succeed.”
Many teachers have already written letters protesting the forced contract, but the union president suggested they also encourage parents to write letters to the governor and Legislature “to demand that they fully fund our schools and show that education is the priority they claim it is.”
Finally, he called for parents and teachers to organize themselves into a “Force for Good,” bent on developing the union’s new messages and sharing them via new media.