What does it tell us that the governor rejected the call by the teachers union for mediation?

It tells us that he is confident that the state was correct in declaring talks at an impasse in late June and imposing a new contract.

The Abercrombie administration, the Hawaii Department of Education and the Hawaii Board of Education are committed to settling the dispute through the labor board — the very agency that the Hawaii State Teachers Association last month asked to resolve the dispute.

“The HSTA filed its complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board (HLRB) and we respect that process,” the state said in a statement late Monday. “We continue to be open to mediation through HLRB.”

Through HLRB, and not between management and the union.

The state observed in its statement that negotiators for the union previously rejected a mediation offer.

As they say in tennis, advantage, Abercrombie.

In Labor Board’s Court

The state’s rebuff to the union comes as both parties are scheduled to meet with the HLRB.

A public hearing Wednesday concerns the union’s request that wages and benefits be restored to pre-July 1 levels, while a public hearing next Monday addresses the union’s complaint that the state bargained in bad faith.

The fate of the contract is in the hands of the three-member labor board, and it’s unclear how it will rule on the motion and the complaint. One possibility is that the HLRB will ask the parties to return to the table.

For now, however, the state has little reason to resume talks with the HSTA. It was the union, after all, that took the issue to the labor board, not the other way around.

As well, a contract requiring pay cuts, higher medical costs and furlough days is already in place. Though obviously worried about their pay, teachers are busy with the new school year.

And, the administration, DOE and BOE have presented a united front, whereas there appears to be unrest among the rank and file. Other unions have expressed serious concerns about how the teachers dispute could affect the future of collective bargaining in Hawaii.

On the first day of school, Abercrombie welcomed incoming freshmen at Leilehia High School in Wahiawa. The governor also made appearances on Maui and the Big Island, many of them in educational settings.

While he encountered some protest over his HSTA stance, Abercrombie has not shirked the public eye nor strayed from his views. Indeed, he has hinted he is open to discussion, reinforcing his position that it was the union, and not he, who walked away from the table when a deal was close.

Desperate Move?

By contrast, the union seems eager to alter a course that seems to be tilting in the state’s favor.

HSTA President Wil Okabe wrote a personal letter to Abercrombie asking him to return to the table, but the governor replied that he hadn’t seen a counteroffer from the union.

Then, over the weekend, the union took the unusual step of backing down from challenging the state at the HLRB and accepting what it described as a mediation offer from the governor.

The “offer” was far from formal, having been made in an 11-minute YouTube video exchange between Abercrombie and a former union president.

The union accepted by faxing a letter to the governor’s office on a Saturday night — a sign of how dysfunctional the relationship has become.

The union’s letter said the board had agreed to “mediation/binding arbitration” — which took the possibility of a strike off the table.

“Negotiations via the media are not productive,” the state responded Monday, adding, “It should be made clear that mediation is different from arbitration. Arbitration, which we have never offered, is not included in Hawaii’s statutory collective bargaining process with the HSTA.”

The tennis match continues in extra sets, with the HLRB as the possible tiebreaker.

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