The Hawaii State Teachers Association has vowed to withdraw its labor case against the state if teachers ratify a collective bargaining agreement reached earlier this month.

That would leave a host of questions about collective bargaining law unanswered — such as whether the governor can impose a “last, best and final offer” — but HSTA President Wil Okabe told teachers Tuesday that a contract is better for them than years of legal battles and attorney’s fees.

He shared this Tuesday evening at an informational briefing about the new agreement reached between the union and state on Jan. 6. (Read our live blog of the event here.)

The catalyst for that agreement was in part a letter from the U.S. Department of Education chastising the state for its lack of progress on Race to the Top reforms. But, he said, a letter from U.S. Senator Daniel K. Inouye also played a critical role in getting the two bargaining teams back to the table after a months-long standoff.

The result is a six-year contract that doesn’t give teachers much in the short term (it keeps their 5 percent pay cut in place until 2013), but would give them 1 percent annual salary increases in each of the final four years as long as they receive an “effective” rating or better on the new performance evaluation that is being developed. The union can ask to reopen the deal in either 2013 or 2015 to renegotiate the financial terms.

The ratification vote is set for Thursday.

It was impossible to tell from the online webcast of the informational briefing at the Hawaii Convention Center how many teachers were present, but HSTA reported on its Facebook page that more than 2,000 of the state’s 12,500 teachers were streaming it on their computers. Civil Beat learned that the crowd at the center was small, under 100.

There were no real surprises in the briefing — just many detailed questions answered for teachers.

HSTA Secretary/Treasurer Joan Lewis, a member of the bargaining team, emerged as a strong advocate for the new performance evaluation that is a key part of the agreement. She cited the union’s involvement in developing the evaluation process as one reason for her support.

“An annual evaluation is what should be expected by any professional,” Lewis said. “Professionals are treated professionally, and one of the things that professionals are entitled to is feedback on a regular basis. We have had our own concerns about the previous evaluation used by the Department of Education. One of those concerns was that an evaluation every five years — particularly if our salary increments align to that — is not a way to treat professionals.”

Former HSTA Executive Director Joan Husted told Civil Beat that the union was involved in developing the last two evaluations used by the Hawaii Department of Education.

The tone of comments on the union’s Facebook page turned more positive during and after the briefing.

But one teacher submitted a question to union leaders asking what would be “the worst that could happen if we vote ‘no.'”

The answer: There is no guarantee that negotiations would continue, and HSTA would likely continue its case.

Issues that will remain unresolved if teachers ratify the contract and the union pulls its case:

  • Did the governor commit a prohibited practice in bargaining by imposing a contract?
  • Does Hawaii law allow the implementation of a last, best offer by the employer
  • Under what circumstances can a “last, best and final offer” be imposed, if it’s even legal at all?
  • If a “last, best and final” offer is legal, what, if any limitations are there on what can be covered in the imposed contract?
  • Does a union have an immediate right to strike if an employer implements a “last, best and final” offer?

About the Author