The Hawaii State Teachers Association has accepted Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s invitation to continue negotiating a new contract, but still does not plan to withdraw its labor complaint against the state.

The decision followed a two-week listening tour union leaders conducted to find out why teachers last month overwhelmingly rejected an agreement that negotiators reached with the state to replace the contract Abercrombie imposed on them in July last year. That contract included a 5 percent pay cut and increase in health costs.

The state and union came to a new agreement after a six-month stalemate in negotiations and in the middle of a protracted labor complaint against the state for the unilaterally imposed contract. The six-year contract would have meant an end to the expensive legal case and included a pay raise for teachers every year they received a “satisfactory” or better on a new, as-yet-undeveloped annual evaluation.

Both the governor and HSTA President Wil Okabe were perplexed by the 2-1 rejection, but Abercrombie invited the union to present a counter offer.

Okabe took the governor up on his offer in a letter dated Feb. 8.

“Since receiving your letter of January 20, 2012 requesting a counter-proposal from our teachers, we initiated an extensive process of talking and listening to teachers,” he wrote. “We visited 80% of the schools and have received written responses from over 5,000 teachers. As a result of what we have learned, we have made the following decisions:

1) We accept your offer to return to the bargaining table;

2) We have expanded the Negotiations Team to include the State Officers and additional representation from the Negotiations Committee; and

3) If we reach a tentative agreement with you, the Negotiations Committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Directors.”

He also informed the governor that the union will proceed with its case before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, because they believe the imposed contract violated their rights and “we must preserve our legal options in the event that renewed negotiations result in a longer stalemate.”

He closes by urging the governor to keep tenure a collective bargaining issue, instead of making it a matter of state law as one bill in the Legislature is attempting to do.

The same day he sent the governor the letter, Okabe posted an update for union members on what he and the board decided after the listening tour.

Aloha Colleagues,

Together, we are facing the future.

We began by listening. In just 10 days, we visited 80% of the schools and received 5,000 completed surveys. While there are many different opinions, there was some clear consensus.

The HSTA Board has voted to take these immediate steps in response to what we believe that consensus is:
1) We will formally accept the Governor’s offer to return to bargaining.
2) We expanded the Negotiations Team to include the State Officers and additional representation from the Negotiations Committee to better represent you at the table.
3) If the Team reaches a tentative agreement with the state, they will present it to the Negotiations Committee. That Committee will make a recommendation to the Board of Directors.
4) No ratification vote will be taken until informational meetings have occurred and teachers are clear as to the content of the proposed contract.
5) We will provide updates to you via our HSTA Web site (http://www.hsta.org), e-mail & text messaging, and chapter/faculty meetings on an ongoing basis. Please see the bottom of this message for ways to stay connected.

We have decided to continue our legal action at the Labor Board. The state violated our rights last June and we must preserve our legal options in the event that renewed negotiations result in a longer stalemate.

Lastly, our public relations and legislative strategies are getting results. Thank you for your e-mail lobbying campaign. We need to keep tenure a collective bargaining issue, not a legislative issue.

Mahalo for your commitment in the classroom and your engagement in issues important to our members.

Sincerely,

Wil Okabe
President

Meanwhile, the union recently filed its latest financial report with the federal government. As a nonprofit, the union is required to make its most recent three years of so-called 990 forms available publicly.

Civil Beat reviewed the reports and found:

HSTA generated about $7.6 million in revenue in fiscal year 2010, primarily through membership dues, according to its latest financial disclosure accessible through Guidestar, an online service that catalogs information on nonprofit organizations.

Wil Okabe was paid $92,424 as president. Interim executive director Dwight Takeno was paid $108,471 and NEA director Roger Takabayshi was paid $117,356.

The report also lists another $2.7 million in salaries and wages that aren’t detailed out. It shows $411,459 for legal costs, $88,152 for travel and $370,837 for conferences and meetings.

Go to Guidestar to review all three reports.

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