Blogs > Cliopatria > Hawai'i Strike Report: TENTATIVE Agreement?

Mar 26, 2004 11:10 am

Hawai'i Strike Report: TENTATIVE Agreement?

Previous Pre-Strike reports #1 and #2

The Strike Has Been Averted! Well, at least that's what the Governor and UH System President are saying. In the midst of a relentless stream of"we can't afford this" rhetoric (including holding up ongoing hiring procedures for"lack of funds"), the union negotiating team and the state negotiator have reached a Tentative Agreement [.pdf] which is curiously similar to the state's negotiating position. It's a"Trust us, we'll pay for this somehow, later" agreement, which depends greatly on the union membership's willingness to defer compensation and trust the state (and university, which has to raise a pretty big chunk of the deferred raises) to come through.

The Governor played hardball and won, at least at the table. She pit unions against each other, by arguing that certain professions were more deserving of raises than others (it just wasn't a good year, politically, to be denying raises to police and firefighters, but teachers and"bureaucrats" are always open targets, no matter how economically productive they are) and arguing that large awards for one union would jeopardize the state's ability to fund increases for others. The Chancellors and Deans played along, seeding fear by holding up hiring and procurement. She threatened to bypass the process, publicly urging the legislature to void an arbitrated increase for another public employee union (which should have been announced this week but has been put off to Monday for reasons which remain murky) if it should exceed the state's offer. She rattled every saber she had, and the team blinked.

The Bad News: 1% for this year (retroactive; in a little lump sum, if we're lucky.), 3% for next year. This is identical to the state's initial position: not the 0%-2% verbal, non-binding offer I reported before, but the 1%-3% they wrote down on the official state collective bargaining paperwork without actually offering it to us over the table. Interestingly, it's not the 0%-4% offer that a certain Dean told a certain job candidate (who told the hiring committee) he had heard from the Governor was the next offer. It's also not the 5%-5% that the union was pretty sure was the bottom line for membership, or the 4%-4% that the HR study said we need to keep pace with our peer institutions. It's just enough to cover our union dues this year; barely over cost-of-living adjustment next year. The third year (this is an"unprecedented" six year deal, by the way) increase is also only 2%, for a total of 6.1% (compounded) over three years. And the University has to come up with a significant portion of the increases in the last three years without state support (and if you subtract those portions, the agreement looks an awful lot like the state's original offer).

The Good News (sort of): The last three years are a bonanza! A full 25% over three years: 5%, 9% and 11%. The total compounded increase over this contract is 38.4%, the equivalent of 5.1% per year for six years (the TA text says 5.8%, but that's just bad, bad math). And we have an MFN ("Most Favored Nation") clause: our share of health premiums will be no more than the best deal negotiated by any other public employees union... assuming any of them have the guts to negotiate.

Preemptive propaganda aside, the union membership still has to vote on this. I'm leaning towards"no" myself.

There's real drawbacks to the backloaded contract, most of which fall in the category"If you don't stay long haul, you never see the money." Untenured or non-tenure-track faculty may never get the big bumps (though lecturers get a nice 3.95%/year increase), and anyone thinking of retiring will clearly be putting it off just a few more years (our pensions are calculated based on salary in last years of service) (thanks to a colleague in Economics for pointing that out). My wife's reaction was"If they're going to give it to us anyway, why not make it 5% per year?" I'm with her, and I think the positive effect on faculty morale and retention would also be worth the up-front investment. As it is we're having trouble retaining -- even hiring -- any faculty member who doesn't have local family ties or surfing habits.

The big increases in the last three years of the contract are heavily subsidized by the university system: where's the money going to come from? Turning down the air conditioning and reducing the copying budgets is only going to go so far. A colleague from Political Science has suggested that they might be thinking of converting retiring faculty positions into cheaper adjunct positions; I don't think they're planning that, but I do think that it might easily result from cost-cutting pressure that the contract will bring. Increasing revenue through higher enrollments and class sizes is already happening, so that won't be a surprise, though if the rooms get any fuller, the fire marshal's going to have to be bribed and at some point they're going to have to invest in buildings. Tuition raises are always a possibility, but that, of course, endangers enrollment, not to mention public support.

And the portions of the raises funded by the state aren't all that secure, either. There only a little pork on the chopping block right now, not enough to justify optimism about future windfalls. Is the state economy going to boom suddenly? Not from where we're sitting. It's growing nicely right now, and every dollar invested in higher education brings about seven back to the state in economic growth, so there's not a lot of good argument for deferring raises there. Are they putting aside money now to pay us later? (Remember the Lockbox?) Inflation (not a big deal now, but Alan Greenspan can't beat the house forever) or financial emergency (we're really dependent on tourism and terrorism really cuts into tourism) could easily void the late-contract increases. The cost of housing alone is driving our cost of living index up much faster than general inflation.

And, in the long run, the six-year contract is a recipe for union disintegration. It's hard enough keeping a union running and strong, much less a faculty union, even with regular biennial negotiations (and our negotiators obviously need work) to keep attention focused. What is the union going to do with itself for the next four years? When the next contract rolls around (or the promises fall flat, whichever comes first), will there be any real experience or guts left in the organization?

Our negotiating team got jerked around and folded, the implications of the settlement are poor at best, the reliability of our negotiating partners is suspect, and they're playing games in the press to pressure us; not to mention the fact that we don't see any money to speak of for another two years. On the other hand, our union dues don't include a strike fund, my semester is actually on track for a change, and there's no guarantee that the negotiators are wrong when they say that this was"the best deal they could get."

So, now that our"settlement" has been announced, all the positive support we were going to have when there was no acceptable offer on the table has now been squandered, because there's an offer on the table that obviously our leadership did find acceptable. Unless our Union leadership actually advises the membership to reject the offer and sends the negotiating team back to do the job right. Everyone is trickling back from Spring Break over the weekend, then the discussion begins in earnest; but by then the Union will have set at timetable for a vote and made a recommendation. Nonetheless, the discussion will continue.

Happy Prince Kuhio Day!

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Michael C Tinkler - 3/27/2004

I'm sure cost-of-living expectations would make retirement difficult to encourage in Hawaii, anyway. In Upstate New York we always *think* our aged colleagues will want to flee to Arizona, but in my 5 year experience it hasn't worked that way.

Jonathan Dresner - 3/27/2004

It's been a while since I read any HR analysis (ok, almost never) but I do remember reading an analysis which concluded that early retirement incentives programs are not cost-savers: in the long run, the extra benefits, etc, cancel out any salary savings. Their main use should be in promoting restructuring for greater productivity, not for cost savings.

Anyway, I'm sure that any early retirement program would have to be union-approved, and it's not on the table now. I think they're just planning to let things take their normal course and get worse.....

Robert L. Campbell - 3/27/2004

For a psychologist at Clemson, reaching the median salary for a comparison group would be just peachy.

Michael C Tinkler - 3/26/2004

Gosh, that's not encouraging, Jonathan.

In your position I would indeed think that they're hoping to finance the backloaded raise scheme with some kind of retirement encouragement plan separate from the salary plan.

I wish you well making your decision on the vote.

We (a totally different kind of institution, of course) are in the 3rd year of a 5 year salary plan to raise us to the median of a comparison group (and the contention over the establishment of the comparison group was something to watch!). Luckily, our plan isn't so flagrantly backloaded, but they did bring the Associates up to median almost immediately while Assistants lag along. Full professors were well above the median already, which here reflected the local circumstances of an incredibly senior senior professoriate (when I got here English had something like 10 full and 1 associate professors, and he's a long-service associate). Given the performance for the first 3 years I trust them to complete the plan, but that leaves us at the median of a comparison group that doesn't make our hearts leap with ambition.

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