This could be the year that Hawaii’s governor gets the blessing to implement new work conditions on public employees without union approval. Or it could be the year the Hawaii State Teachers Association prevails in its protest that his action was unconstitutional and violated collective bargaining rights.

What happens depends in part on how the HSTA handles itself before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. And so far, the teachers union doesn’t appear to be doing too well.

Hitting The Brakes

Despite its talk of of the urgent need to resolve this conflict with the governor, the teachers union has done its share of slowing things down.

HSTA has filed numerous separate motions — all at different times in the case — forcing the labor board to deal with those as they come up.

The board intended to hear the main complaint on Monday, Aug. 15. But that hearing was postponed until Aug. 25 so it could first hear a complaint from the HSTA about a letter labor board Chairman Jim Nicholson had received from Gov. Neil Abercrombie. The board ruled that the letter was not an attempt to subvert the legal process.

Still, HSTA attorney Herb Takahashi blamed the governor and his letter for the delay.

“It’s because of this motion from the union that hearings were delayed, not because of the letter,” retorted state Deputy Attorney General Jim Halvorson.


Some of HSTA’s actions have backfired, too.

The union filed an ethics complaint in conjunction with its motion protesting the governor’s letter.

The union’s ethics complaint, however, drew the state Ethics Commission’s scrutiny to other potential conflicts of interest and contributed to a shakeup on the board.

The state Ethics Commission released a ruling causing board member Sesnita Moepono to recuse herself from the case because her husband is an HSTA member.

Moepono’s recusal was announced several weeks after the legal process began. It surprised the HSTA, whose attorneys had not expressed a problem with her participation in the case.

The case has been bogged down by motions and arguments that are sometimes redundant. It doesn’t help that the board chairman seems in no hurry to interrupt long-winded monologues that repeat things already stated in both the legal briefs and earlier hearings.

These monologues come primarily from the union’s attorney. Halvorson, representing the state, rarely restates arguments already contained in the written filings.

“If this were a court with a judge, we would have been out of here an hour ago,” Halvorson told Civil Beat on Thursday after two hours of listening to the board and Takahashi hash out tedious details.

The slow pace and lack of progress have turned what was once a standing-room-only affair into a boring hearing that draws progressively smaller crowds. Even the TV cameras have stopped showing up.

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