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Published in Print: April 18, 2001, as Statewide Teachers', Professors' Strike Continues in Hawaii

Statewide Teachers', Professors' Strike Continues in Hawaii

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Nearly all of Hawaii's 256 public schools and 10 college campuses remained closed late last week, eight days after the state's 16,000 teachers and professors began a statewide strike deemed to be the nation's most far-reaching in public education to date.

"This is the first time in [American] history that we've had kindergarten through graduate school educators on strike," said Bruce S. Cooper, a professor at Fordham University's graduate school of education in New York City and an expert on labor issues. The cost to the taxpayers of Hawaii, he said, "could be quite high because you're talking about [salaries for] every teacher and every professor in the state."

Educators belonging to the 13,000-member Hawaii State Teachers Association and the 3,100-member University of Hawaii Professional Assembly formed picket lines April 5 after rejecting separate contracts offered by Gov. Benjamin J. Cayetano earlier this year, said John Radcliffe, the associate executive director of the professors' union. Both unions criticized the offers, in part, as providing too little for salary increases.

About 180,000 children in grades K-12 and 43,000 college students are affected by the strike.

The unions' contracts coincidentally expired in the summer of 1999, and their leaders have been bargaining with the governor's office ever since "to no avail," Mr. Radcliffe said.

The state's K-12 public schools are organized into a single district and are compelled to negotiate with the governor rather than with local school district officials, as is typically the case on the mainland. The public university system also bargains with the governor, in contrast with colleagues elsewhere who negotiate with their institutions' boards of trustees.

"I've been in this business since 1965, and I've never seen a situation where the entire educational structure is so upset," Mr. Radcliffe said. "This wouldn't have happened had people been treated right in the first place."

Gov. Cayetano, however, believes both offers are fair.

"We have to balance the needs of [educators] with the need for money for computers, books, and facilities," said Jackie Kido, a spokeswoman for the Democratic governor. She said sufficient pay increases have been awarded in past contracts.

'Dire' Situation

The precollegiate teachers are seeking 22 percent across-the-board raises over four years, while the governor offered a 14 percent increase over the last two years of the contract. That amount is unacceptable, given the severe teacher shortage in Hawaii and the high cost of living, argued Danielle L. Lum, a spokeswoman for the teachers' union.

"The issue here is making teaching attractive," Ms. Lum said. "Right now, we have 200 vacancies—the equivalent of nine elementary schools—and about one-third of our workforce is now eligible to retire. The situation is dire."

Beginning teachers in Hawaii earn an average salary of $29,000, Ms. Lum said. The national average is $27,700.

Yet the 14 percent raise the governor is offering "would place teachers in the top 10 highest-paid states in the nation," Ms. Kido said. "We are making a lot of progress."

University faculty members are asking for an 11 percent increase over two years of the four-year-contract, Mr. Radcliffe said. Beginning faculty members pursuing tenure-track positions earn an average of $32,000 a year, he said.

Mr. Cayetano offered a 9 percent across-the-board raise for the college professors and an additional 2 percent for those who meet incentives yet to be outlined, Ms. Kido said.

Still, the deal wasn't enough to persuade faculty members to return to their classrooms, Mr. Radcliffe said. Not only does the union oppose merit-based pay, but part-time lecturers were offered no raises, he said.

"We're holding out for those people, one of whom [is so strapped for cash] she's living in her car," Mr. Radcliffe said.

No new talks between either union and the governor's office were scheduled as of late last week.

Vol. 20, Issue 31, Page 25

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