Hawai'i Strike Report: Slow Brinkmanship
The delegates of the University of Hawai'i Professional Assembly (UHPA) voted by a 70-5 margin on Sunday to authorize the Board to notify the Hawai'i Labor Relations Board of our intent to strike, and the union has duly notified HLRB and the state of our intent to strike [PDF] on or after April 5th. OK, it's not terrorism (by the way, I don't want Paige to resign: I want him to stay on and drag the story out as long as humanly possible! Seriously though, you have to feel a little sorry for a non-security portfolio Secretary in this administration, and understand, if not forgive, the attempt to hijack [ok, not the best choice of words] some of that national security interest), but for those of us with salaries on the line and without the thin veil of tenure, it's certainly an attention-grabber. Some of my students have started following the story, too: yes, I might have mentioned it to a few history majors in the break room, and now the word has spread. Of course, they're concerned about their semester.
On that score, I think they're pretty safe, unless the Governor is channeling Margaret"Iron Maiden" Thatcher or Ronald"Who Needs Air Traffic Controllers?" Reagan. Two years ago, when every teachers' union in Hawai'i was on strike, the state waited until a day before student tuition refunds would be required, then settled. The public school teachers held out longer: the state had no financial incentive to budge, but they eventually did come to some agreement. After the settlement, class days missed had to be made up on weekends: some of my colleagues report that it was a painful and difficult end to an unpleasant semester (as well as reporting suspicions that not all of our colleagues fulfilled that obligation).
The informational meeting a few weeks back was, well, informative. If you want, you can view the PDF version of what was presented by UHPA's President and Executive Director. Two interesting statistics: 3.95% and 1.8%. The former is the percentage that our"peer institution" salaries are projected to rise this contract year, so if our salaries don't match that then we will be further behind our Governor and system President's stated objective of reaching and exceeding peer medians. The latter is the projected increase in cost of living for Hawai'i this year. To be fair, my institution (UH-Hilo) is closer to the median than the rest of the system, and assistant professors are closer to the median than the rest of the system, and honestly, I would favor a contract that did more for the associate and full professors, community college faculty and instructors than it did for me.
The Q/A discussion after the presentation was also worthwhile. We are not negotiating in a vacuum. Although teachers don't have a binding arbitration option, other government employee unions do, and our leadership believes that the state is waiting to see what kind of results it gets back from the largest public employee union arbitration before it makes another offer to us. That would be late March. And there is strong support within the union for a strike unless the salary raises offered are substantial: we're asking for 6% this year, 8% next year (which gets us closer to that peer median), and the membership clearly (according to an internal survey) won't settle for less than 5% and 5%.
p.s. Friends in Iowa report plans afoot to stage a substantial pro-gay-marriage protest by having same-sex couples request marriage licences from County Recorder offices. The scale of the event is unclear at this point (dozens, possibly scores or hundreds), but the Iowa media is watching closely. Allan Lichtman's new HNN blog is off to a slow start, but guest blogger Karyn Strickler's essay "The Do Nothing Strategy" is worth skimming (it's long). I'm largely in agreement with her, that action is more powerful than inaction, but there are times when quiescence is a tactical necessity. Nonetheless, timidity in politics, both electoral and activist, is troubling and should be the exception, not the rule.