Collective Bargaining Update
Hawaii Gov. Neil Abercrombie could face a historic legal battle with one of the state's public employees unions, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which has declared that it is filing a legal challenge to the governor's implementation of Hawaii's "last, best, final" contract offer to its public school teachers. Though Abercrombie campaigned under promises to compromise and collaborate with public-sector unions, he struck with unprecedented force when HSTA's board of directors rejected the contract. On July 1, Gov. Abercrombie unilaterally implemented the unratified two-year contract, which contains wage cuts and adjustments amounting to a 5% decrease and a requirement that the union's 12,700 teachers contribute half the cost of their health insurance premiums. A similar contract was accepted in April by most units of Hawaii's largest public labor union, the Hawaii Government Employees Association, and is projected by the governor's office to save the state $65 million next fiscal year and an additional $59 million the year after.
According to the governor, HSTA negotiators already agreed to the final version of the contract, but the offer was then rejected by the union's board (which refused to open it to HSTA members for a ratification vote). Union representatives have countered the governor's claims by stating that Abercrombie's announcement was both premature and a violation of collective bargaining law. On July 1, Union President Wil Okabe promised to legally challenge Abercrombie's unilateral act, but the Hawaii Labor Relations Board reported that they had received no legal filing from HSTA as of July 5. Labor attorney Tony Gill noted that Abercrombie's action, if followed by a challenge from the union, could provide a unique test of the state's collective bargaining law: "This is the largest and most important doctrinal innovation in Hawaii labor relations law in a generation. Period."
Meanwhile, leaders of Connecticut's labor unions have asked for concessions talks to be reopened between the unions and Gov. Dannel Malloy. Last week's negotiations ended in a union rejection of Malloy's $1.6 billion concessions deal, thanks to internal voting bylaws that require 14 out of 16 unions to approve concessions. On July 5, representatives of the State Employees Bargaining Agent Coalition sent a letter to the governor's office in an attempt to avoid the almost 7,000 layoffs hanging over the heads of public employees represented by the stubborn union group. Malloy, whom the General Assembly granted expanded budget-cutting authority to balance the two-year, $40.1 billion budget, has previously declined to renegotiate the deal. A Malloy spokeswoman has responded to the SEBAC letter, however, stating that the governor is willing to "clarify" the language of the deal if that clarification will help lead to union ratification.