It’s been a month since the head of Hawaii’s largest union demanded to reopen labor talks with Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s chief negotiator, claiming another union got a better deal.

No new deal has been struck between the Hawaii Government Employees Association and the state. And gauging the progress of those talks would depend on who you ask.

On one hand, the governor’s office says a “productive exchange of information” has taken place over the course of three meetings. Meanwhile, a union spokeswoman says nothing concrete has transpired, and described the discussions so far as informal.

The union invoked its most-favored-nation clause via a Nov. 18 letter, in which HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira claimed the United Public Workers union landed a better contract.

Shortly after the letter was made public, Abercrombie told Civil Beat he fully intends to honor the favored nation perk, which allows HGEA to get the same benefits as another union if a better deal is reached. It was essentially seen as a reward for HGEA being the first union to settle with the state.

With six months of the fiscal year already done, applying new terms retroactively for the HGEA’s more than 28,000 members could have a negative impact on the state and counties’ budgeting process moving forward.

One example: For the five months that UPW did not have a new contract in place, its members saw their pay revert to higher pre-furlough levels and covered just 40 percent of health-care costs. Should the HGEA be able to apply its favored nation clause to that, the state and counties would be on the hook for the added costs.

HGEA spokeswoman Jodi Endo Chai says the union hasn’t been able to obtain a finalized version of UPW’s contract terms, which has partly stalled progress.

“When we obtain that information, then we can bring the negotiating teams back in,” she said. “There are certain things for us that we can pretty confidently say that we’ll be seriously looking into, and what we’d want the favored nations clause to apply to.”

As we’ve reported earlier, it’s hard to say which agreement really is better for employees in the long run.

Most HGEA members ratified a contract back in April that included 5 percent pay cuts and a 50-50 split on health-care premiums.

HGEA’s contract also calls for six hours per month of supplemental time off with pay, which amounts to an additional nine paid days off a year. That’s in addition to the 21 vacation days and 21 sick days public workers get annually.

There is no promise that there won’t be lay-offs in the agreement, and the terms apply to all members regardless of how their positions are funded.

Those terms went into effect at the start of the fiscal year, July 1.

Members of the UPW ratified a contract Nov. 23 that agreed to “directed leave without pay” (read: furlough days) to achieve 5 percent labor savings. Employees would be required to take 14 unpaid days off for the remainder of the current fiscal year, which began July 1. They’d be furloughed 13 days next fiscal year.

Their agreement also calls for a 50-50 split on health costs, but it guarantees no layoffs for the life of the contract. The terms would not apply to union members whose positions are funded with federal or special funds.

UPW’s latest contract went into effect Dec. 1. When UPW’s former contract expired June 30, 2011, members saw their wages and benefits revert to June 2009 levels. That included pre-furlough pay and a 60-40 split on health-care costs in favor of employees.

About the Author