The state Supreme Court on Friday said it will not force the Hawaii Labor Relations Board to rule on the teachers union case that accuses Gov. Neil Abercrombie of violating collective bargaining rights when he unilaterally imposed a new contract last year.

But the justices are making the board explain within the next 20 days why it’s taken more than four months to issue a decision.

“Today is a victory for all Hawaii teachers and students,” Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe said. “We’re extremely pleased by the ruling by the Supreme Court for interlocutory relief. The sooner we can get to the resolution to this dispute … the better.”

Whether the board’s explanation for the delay brings the standoff closer to conclusion remains to be seen.

The union filed its case with the labor board in July 2011 after negotiations fell apart and the administration implemented its “last, best, final offer.” Teachers are in their second year working under that contract, which includes a combination of salary cuts and increased employee costs for health benefits.

The state and HSTA rested their cases in May and submitted their post-hearing briefs in June, giving the two-person board all it needs to make its decision. But silence has ensued.

Also this summer, teachers approved the contract offer they had shot down in January. But the governor said it no longer had legal standing because other offers were on the table at the time.

Meantime, federal mediators failed to bring the two sides closer to agreeing on a new contract. The governor announced Oct. 4 that HSTA had ended its participation in the process, saying it’s “impossible to negotiate with people who refuse to talk.”

Abercrombie spokeswoman Donalyn Dela Cruz said the governor had no comment on the Supreme Court’s decision Friday. She said he just plans to follow whatever the labor board does.

HSTA filed its complaint with the court Sept. 28, saying without a decision from the labor board the union is prohibited from exercising its right to strike.

The justices wrote in their three-page decision Friday that they were denying HSTA’s request for a prompt ruling from the board “in light of the extended duration of the evidentiary proceeding and the voluminous record.”

Okabe said the court’s decision to make the board at least say why it hasn’t ruled yet brings the dispute one step closer to resolution.

Read the court’s decision in its entirety here:

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