The Hawaii State Teachers Association is mobilizing its 13,000 members this week to publicly pressure the state to resolve the protracted dispute over their next two-year contract.
The union has created a new website, ramped up its social media advocacy and planned two protests for November.
The effort to energize teachers to do pretty much everything short of a full-on strike comes on the heels of a bruising Hawaii Supreme Court ruling last month. HSTA had asked the high court to force the Hawaii Labor Relations Board to rule on a complaint the union filed in July 2011 after Gov. Neil Abercrombie‘s administration unilaterally implemented its “last, best, final” contract offer. But the court refused.
HSTA President Wil Okabe was excited the court at least directed the board to explain its delay in making a decision on the case, which had its final hearing more than five months ago. But the union’s enthusiasm waned when the labor board and state filed their responses last week, ripping apart HSTA’s request.
“Until we exhaust the HLRB process, we cannot even proceed to the court on the constitutional issues,” HSTA said in a statement on its website. “This could be a recipe for any governor to simply bypass good faith bargaining, impose his will over the contract terms, and rely on the appointed labor board to delay justice.”
The labor board said in its court filing Thursday that it has the discretion to take as long as it needs to decide if the state infringed on the union’s bargaining rights. The board’s attorney, Valri Kunimoto, noted the case lasted nine months and includes 8,350 pages of transcripts and exhibits to consider.
The state is content with the board taking as long as it wants. Deputy Solicitor General Deirdre Marie-Iha, attorney for the governor’s negotiating team, said in her response to the court that HSTA’s request is “fundamentally flawed” and the board should maintain its discretion.
With court intervention unlikely at best, the union has turned to its members for more ammunition.
The first so-called “work-to-rule” protest is set for Thursday, the day after contract negotiations are supposed to restart. Campbell High School and Iroquois Point Elementary educators plan to wave signs as part of the demonstration, which involves teachers only working the hours specified in their contract, 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. Another protest is planned for Nov. 29.
The union’s new Facebook page, Hawaii Teachers Work To The Rules, highlights all the things teachers do outside of their contracted work hours: coaching, leading clubs, grading papers, attending some meetings or doing lesson plans. All that could stop on protest days.
Dozens of teachers have commented on the recent spate of posts on HSTA’s Facebook pages. Most back the union’s efforts, calling for more protests with all schools participating.
“United we stand. Divided we fall,” Fai Faaolatane Pao Lowe wrote. “We must do it long term until the gov and the state gives us a fair contract.”
In a post Friday, HSTA said it gained nearly 60 “likes” and more than 4,500 unique visits in less than a week on its main Facebook page.
It’s unclear what effect HSTA’s push to get teachers out protesting for a better contract will have on the upcoming negotiations.
Okabe and the governor’s office did not respond to requests seeking comment Monday.
The union has already said it doesn’t like the state’s latest offer and intends to fight for something better. Abercrombie has maintained that the concessions in the contract — which include wage reductions and higher healthcare premiums — are consistent with those accepted by other public employee unions in the state.