UPDATED 9/27/11 7:00 p.m.

The Supreme Court of Hawaii has ruled that the teachers union has the right to strike once its current complaint before the Labor Relations Board is resolved.

But the court rejected the union’s plea to force the Labor Relations Board to make decisions on outstanding cases and on its request for relief from the pay cut that went into effect July 1.

The Hawaii State Teachers Association said at the beginning of its legal dispute with the state that it was prohibited from striking because it has multiple outstanding cases before the board. HSTA President Wil Okabe suggested to Civil Beat that there are as many as eight open cases on which the board still has to rule.

Until all of those cases are resolved, HSTA leaders said, the union’s members could not enter into a strike against Gov. Neil Abercrombie for unilaterally implementing a “last, best and final” contract offer.

The court stated that only the current dispute has to be resolved before teachers can strike.

But the court said the Labor Relations Board has every right to take its time considering the motion for relief.

“We’re pleased,” HSTA President Wil Okabe told Civil Beat after a hearing before the labor board Tuesday. “The ruling says that the labor board can’t make a premature judgment and that it has to make its ruling crystal clear and provide all of its reasoning.”

He added that he had hoped the Supreme Court could “speed up” the decision-making process on the request for relief, but now accepts that the ruling will come in its own time.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie issued a press release in response to the ruling.

“The tactics of the Hawaii State Teachers Association and its attorneys are being rejected across the board by the legal system in every venue,” it said. “These theatrics serve no public purpose and they undermine the fact that our students are in schools learning and our teachers are in classrooms teaching. We never received any proposed alternatives from HSTA after its board refused to submit our tentative agreement to the membership. It is time to move on.”

The Supreme Court’s ruling confirms what the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly has been saying all along. The faculty union got involved in HSTA’s case against the state in order to protect its right to strike, and to provide input on the question of whether the governor may legally implement a “last, best and final offer.”

“Our great fear was that HSTA was arguing something not productive and not in the interest of labor unions,” UHPA attorney Tony Gill told Civil Beat.

He said he is gratified the court agrees with his interpretation of the statute outlining labor unions’ strike rights, but that the order does not completely put that or the other remaining issues to rest.

“The Supreme Court issued a one-line order consisting of 10 or 11 words, which fell short of the full analysis that I think is required,” he said. “The take-home is that we were right to get involved, and we are satisfied with the events of today, but still have some issues to resolve.”

On one hand, it’s good news for the union’s members, should they wish to strike and make their point. Okabe said they have no intention of doing so, but if union leaders change their minds, HSTA could withdraw its case before the Labor Relations Board, take a vote and issue a notice to strike.

On the other hand, it’s another in a series of blows to the union, which has now lost parts of its case before both the Ethics Commission and the Supreme Court.

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