Perhaps the most intractable issue for Gov. Neil Abercrombie has been the protracted struggle with the Hawaii State Teachers Association.

In a recent wide-ranging interview with the governor, Abercrombie was asked about the latest developments in the contract dispute, and how he viewed his role in that dispute.

The governor again strongly defended his positions and again put the onus on HSTA leaders.

“It’s called collective bargaining, and it’s very difficult to bargain with someone that doesn’t want to do it,” said Abercrombie. “And if they don’t want to do it, that’s their position. But that’s not going to stop me.”

Civil Beat: Do you feel like you bear any responsibility for the stalemate between the teachers union and the state? You just sent the union a contract proposal and you never told the public what you were proposing —

Gov. Abercrombie: There’s no stalemate. … They never talked to us. We got no communication at all for months. Nothing. Zero. It was entirely done through a lawyer at the Labor Board. That was the only communication that we had. And that consisted almost entirely of calling people that worked with me, in my administration, to the stand, to reiterate what everybody knew all along over and over and over again. I mean, you’ve covered this more than anybody else — the Civil Beat has.

I know that a contract is in place …

I’m not trying to be tricky with you. We literally had no contact, other than that. And yet it is what it is. The only other contact, if you will, was this 138-page “card shuffle” that we got dropped over the transom. It looked like cards got shuffled and they simply dropped it on our desk.

(The governor is referring to the HSTA’s Feb. 28 proposal to return to contract negotiations. On March 19, Abercrombie called the proposal “fiscally irresponsible and devoid of reasonable policy regarding standards and performance”; he urged the union to accept the state’s settlement offer.)

And it took us a little while to wade through that. And that’s why I put the settlement offer out, because it was just impossible. It was like trying to swallow a large animal and you are a small creature.

Why has it been so difficult, do you think?

You’d have to ask them. I’ve never experienced anything like this. Even the other public unions got exasperated with them. It’s a leadership crisis, I guess.

Some of the other public unions were concerned about your imposition of a contract. That’s something that didn’t go over well, for example, with the Hawaii Government Employees Association.

Maybe it didn’t go over well with them. Then, they ought to wake up and understand that I am not going to jeopardize the welfare of children nor incapacitate the school system from being able to operate. I mean, that’s exactly what’s going to take place. Nor am I going to undermine the capacity of teachers who want to teach to be able to do so.

Any update on where we are in terms of them accepting a settlement?

You’d have to ask them. They have the settlement offer.

You’re hopeful that they’ll take it.

After all, the existing contract will be up in June. The public understands completely what this is about.

You feel like you have public support on your position with the HSTA?

Of course. Because it’s not my position with the HSTA. It’s that I am committed to the children and seeing that they get their education. We haven’t lost an instructional day, we have been working with our zones of innovation to work on performance contracts and protocol standards. Everything is moving along. It will all be incorporated into that settlement offer. That’s moving ahead.

The board has made its decision, the DOE has made its decision. They have no veto power. That doesn’t exist.

It’s called collective bargaining, and it’s very difficult to bargain with someone that doesn’t want to do it. And if they don’t want to do it, that’s their position. But that’s not going to stop me.

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