When Justin Hughey started teaching 10 years ago, he knew that he would have to get a second job.
His day starts his day at 7 a.m., teaching second and third grade special education students at a Maui elementary school. But five nights out of the week, his work days end at 1 a.m., because he has to wait tables to help make ends meet.
“I’d much rather spend all my time at school than having to leave and work a second job,” Hughey told Civil Beat.
Compared to other U.S. metropolitan areas, Honolulu teachers are paid the worst in the country when the cost of living is factored in, according to a 2014 study by the National Center for Policy Analysis. Based on data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, a Honolulu teacher’s average salary is 24 percent less than the average household income.
So when the Hawaii State Teachers Association offered “comment” but not outright support for two resolutions that asked the state to increase teachers’ salaries and pay them overtime, some teachers were surprised and disappointed.
House Concurrent Resolution 90 would have asked the state to establish a minimum median salary for Hawaii DOE teachers. Meanwhile, House Concurrent Resolution 92 would have asked the state to give teachers the ability to earn overtime pay. Both resolutions were introduced by Rep. Matt LoPresti.
The resolutions were passed by the House Labor and Public Employment Committee, but were never scheduled to be heard by the House Education Committee — partly because of HSTA comments, said Rep. Takashi Ohno, vice chair of the committee. He also said that passing the resolutions could set a precedent for the Legislature to intervene in salary negotiations with public employees.
The teachers’ union offered written testimony on HCR 90 and 92, stating that while it appreciated the sentiment of the resolutions, they appeared to be in contradiction to the union’s current labor agreement with the state.
Clarification: A previous version of this article stated the teachers’ union offered written testimony stating that the resolutions would infringe on the union’s collective bargaining rights.
The HSTA is negotiating with the state, the Department of Education and the Board of Education to increase salaries for the last two years of the current contract period.
HSTA Vice President Joan Lewis said her greatest concern was that the resolutions might raise teachers’ expectations. Since resolutions are not enforceable by law, there’s no guarantee that the state would allocate funding to increase teachers’ salaries.
Lewis said that the resolutions were “groundbreaking” and hopes lawmakers will continue to discuss increasing teachers’ pay. But they may not realize how much it would cost to increase teachers’ salaries and pay them overtime, she said.
The HSTA vice president said that by the time the HSTA goes into bargaining for the next contract period in 2017, it would be very unlikely that salary increases would have been implemented.
“Please do not get our members to think that something’s going to happen that won’t,” Lewis told Civil Beat.
But some teachers say that concern over possibly raising false expectations is no reason to withhold support from the resolutions.
“I don’t know why they wouldn’t support (the resolutions),” said Erik Salvail, who teaches at Wailuku Elementary.
Hughey, who is running for HSTA vice president as part of the Hawaii Teachers for Change Caucus, said that because HCR 90 stated Hawaii teachers get the lowest pay in the country when the cost of living is factored in, it could have given the HSTA leverage in pay negotiations.
Amy Perruso, a social studies teacher at Mililani High School who is also running for a union position as part of the Hawaii Teachers for Change Caucus, told Civil Beat that even if the resolutions aren’t enforceable by law, she didn’t understand why the union wouldn’t support them.
“Does this sound like an employer’s position or does this sound like a union’s position?” said Perruso. “I think our leadership has gotten too cozy with employers.”
The HSTA is in negotiations to discuss pay increases for the last two years of the current contract period. If the resolutions passed and teachers didn’t receive a pay increase, they might be upset with the HSTA, Perruso said.
She worried that the HSTA would retaliate against her for publicly criticizing the union.
“I think that teachers feel bullied and alienated … by our own union leadership,” she said.
Andy Jones, a language arts teacher at Radford High School in Honolulu, told Civil Beat he would feel better if Hawaii teachers were the 49th-best-paid in the country – just not last.
“It’s hard being a teacher here, we all know that,” Jones said. “Why (doesn’t the HSTA) want to advocate for making things just a little more affordable here?”