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Mar 30, 2004 10:09 pm

Hawai'i Strike Report: DAYS OF DECISION

Previous Pre-Strike reports #1 and #2, and especially #3, the Tentative Agreement

The discussion since the announcement of the Tentative Agreement (TA) has been fast and furious. Most of the people who've been willing to speak up on the matter have been incensed by the offer and the manner in which it was presented. The union board voted to recommend ratification by the membership (I've heard different stories about the vote: 13-5 with two abstentions or 9-9 with the president/chair casting the tiebreaker vote; I suspect both stories are true, but refer to different votes. [update: a board member has revealed that the 9-9 vote was to present the TA without recommendation, which the president rejected; the 13-5-2 vote was to present with a positive recommendation.), setting a vote for next week, with results to be announced Thursday the 8th.

I've been arguing against the TA, publicly and vigorously, but nobody has come up to me and said"you changed my mind." Yet. A lot of people who agree with me have told me that the ratification will succeed in spite of our opposition, probably by a wide margin, because of the large silent majority (remember them?) who will not want to make trouble for themselves or anyone else. One philosopher put it this way:"Scratch a teacher, and you'll find a teacher's pet." Similar discussions are going on at the Manoa campus, with vocal opposition but also supporters of the deal in high places; I haven't heard about opinion at the community colleges.

The rhetoric of this is quite interesting. Supporters of ratification have argued strongly against striking, but only weakly in favor of ratification."The best deal we could get" is the main refrain. A few appeals to"professionalism" and student interest have been made, but my counter to that has been that the deal is so corrosive to the institution that we are duty bound as professionals to oppose it, and that student interests in the long run are not served by accepting a deal that will make it impossible to hire and retain good faculty, and that will increase pressure for adjunctification. The system president has already said that tuition raises would be the main method for raising the system's share of the salary increases, which is going to drive a wedge between students and faculty at least as great if not greater than that which a strike might have produced. (Actually, vocal student opinion was in favor of our holding out for a good deal, but we lost a lot of that when the administration announced a"settlement" which"averted the strike." Now we have to go back and explain"spin" to our students.....) As one colleague put it, tuition increases may be justified, but not just for salaries: buildings, maintenance, services, new hires, library resources; all these things are crying out for more funding, but the bulk of the responsibility will be put on faculty salaries. And the traditional"If you don't like it, go on the market and get a better offer" gambit has been offered, ignoring the corrosive institutional effects of turnover, the costs of constantly hiring and rehiring, etc.

Other colleagues have pointed out that the backloaded salary increases, if they indeed come to fruition, will make it almost impossible to get raises in the next negotiating cycle: we'll be asking for raises in the midst of a two-year, 20% salary jump, and even though we're likely to be lagging far, far behind our peer group institutions (this deal gets us up almost to the median of our peer groups, assuming they don't get any pay raises over the next six years), it'll be hard to say"we need more money, now!" There's considerable dispute over the enforceability of the six-year contract. The good news is that the union lawyers are quite sure that it's enforceable in court; the bad news, and this came directly from the UHPA Executive Director, is that the raises will be protected even if the university has to declare a retrenchment. Now, I don't know if your contract has a similar clause in it, but in ours, retrenchment means"shoot the wounded, eat the horses": it's a fiscal emergency response involving seniority-based mass terminations, starting with the cheapest, least senior adjunct faculty and protecting the senior faculty. The legislature is making noises about not obligating future legislatures, so only the first two years would be legitimately funded and the rest would be dependent on the good will, fiscal sense and financial responsibility of future state legislatures.

There's been plenty of whining about not having"time to strike" this semester, to which I responded:

I disagree that we don't have time to strike in this semester. A rejection of the TA offer next week would be a strike vote: allowing a few days for organization, the strike itself could begin as early as Monday April 12th, three weeks before the end of the semester, unless the state agreed to sit down immediately with newly instructed and empowered negotiators. We don't have to strike long before the end of the semester: as long as final grades are in our hands, we have a great deal of leverage. I hate to use it, but this deal is insulting and corrosive.

And delaying a strike until Fall would give the university administration plenty of time to make contingency plans that would significantly dilute the value and effectiveness of a strike. It may be necessary, but I'd rather make them pay for dragging the process out this long than reward them by giving them time to gear up for our action. The state dragged its feet in negotiation to force us to scramble at the end, but if we move clearly and strongly together it will be effective.
There have been rumblings about back-room deals and political connections as explanations for why the union folded so flatly. I'm not buying those explanations. Yet. But I am seriously thinking about allowing myself to be nominated for the union board [update: nominations are closed for this round, but there is a candidate who claims to be in favor of more democratic process]......

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