State negotiators had no explicit backup plan in the event that Hawaii teachers rejected their collective bargaining agreement in June, according to Don Horner‘s testimony before the labor board.

The Board of Education chairman finished a three-day stint on the witness stand Monday in a labor dispute between the teachers union and the state. The hearing is to determine whether Gov. Neil Abercrombie violated teachers’ constitutional right to collective bargaining when he unilaterally implemented a new contract on July 1. The new contract included a 5 percent salary cut and an increase in their health costs.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association filed a formal labor complaint against the governor and his negotiating team on July 8.

Monday marked the ninth session before the Labor Relations Board. It was the third day that Horner, only the second witness, sat in the hot seat. There are more than 80 witnesses on the subpoena request list.

It was evident during the questioning, which at times was argumentative, that patience is already wearing thin among the parties involved in the case, including the two remaining labor members. The deputy attorney general lost his temper with HSTA attorney Herb Takahashi’s redundant approach. The labor board chairman practically gave up trying to harness Takahashi’s questioning.

Frustrated, board chairman Jim Nicholson told Takahashi, “We just need to get this case over with.”

Still, even at the slow pace, new details emerged on Monday about the events that led to the current standoff.

One of the union’s complaints against state negotiators is that they boycotted the collective bargaining process when there was still time left to negotiate. The governor announced on June 24 that he would implement a “last, best and final offer,” when the teachers’ old contract did not expire until June 30.

The governor has said, however, that his team believed they had reached an agreement, on June 17. Even after the state team declared an impasse in negotiations, both teams returned to the table on June 17 in a hail-mary attempt to come to an agreement. The agreement reached there, Horner said during his testimony, was later rejected by HSTA’s board of directors.

State negotiators, Horner said, had no backup plan in that event.

“I was under the assumption, knowing that the board had rejected our final agreement, that there was no need to negotiate further,” Horner said. “As you know, we had already been in negotiations for several months.”

He added that he does not recall whether the state team held a meeting after HSTA rejected the June 17 agreement to discuss what to do.

He also said he did not receive a copy of a letter Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi subsequently sent directly to the state’s 12,500 teachers outlining the “last, best and final” offer that the state implemented on July 1.

About the Author