HMSA holding free Webinars

We are passing on the below information in the hopes it benefits you. UHPA is not organizing this event but we support the efforts of HMSA.


HFFA, SHOPO, UHPA Actives Health Plan Webinar with HMSA

Learn how to get the most out of your plan, such as benefits and resources to improve your health and well-being.

Keynote Speaker: Stacia Baek, Strategic Account Manager

When: Wednesday, April 21, 2021.

Click the link to start the registration process:

Registration instructions:

At Event Status, click Register. Next, complete your registration with your name and email address. Then, click Submit. Use this link to test your device,

Lessons from Hawaii’s history of organized labor

Don’t Let History Repeat Itself

The struggle for justice in the workplace has been a consistent theme in our islands since the sugar plantation era began in the 1800s. Hawai‘i’s sugar plantation workers toiled for little pay and zero benefits. Sugar plantation owners used manipulative techniques to create a servile workforce, but their tactics eventually turned against them as workers ultimately overcame adversity by organizing together as a union.

Although Hawai‘i today may no longer have a plantation economy and employers may not be as blatantly exploitive, we are constantly faced with threats and attempts to chip away at the core rights of employees in subtle, almost imperceptible, ways. History holds valuable lessons to address today’s workplace challenges and constant changes.

While some may have nostalgic, romanticized notions of the sugar plantation era, the reality was different. Many immigrants surprisingly found themselves in unfavorable working conditions – enslaved in the fields or in the mills, enduring constant pain and suffering – clinging to the hope that they would be able improve the quality of life for their families, all the while enriching their employers.

Lesson #1: Hold true to your values. Don’t let others define the “good life” for you.

The first commercially viable sugar cane plantation began in 1835 by Ladd and Company in Koloa, Kaua‘i. That’s also where the earliest recorded labor strike occurred just six years later.

Employers felt they were giving their workers a “good life” by providing paying jobs. However, when workers requested a reasonable pay increase to 25 cents a day, the plantation owners refused to honor their fair request. Native Hawaiian laborers walked off the job in unity to show that they would not put up with intolerable and inhumane work conditions. Working for the plantation owners for scrips didn’t make sense to Hawaiians. They preferred to work for themselves and take care of their families by fishing and farming. The eight-day strike served as a foretaste of what was to come and displayed the possibilities of organizing for common goals and objectives.

Lesson #2: Standing together in solidarity with aloha leads to triumph.

Importing Laborers for the Plantations

Sugar was becoming a big business in Hawai‘i, with increasingly favorable world market conditions. Yet, with the native Hawaiian population declining because of diseases brought by foreigners, sugar plantation owners needed to import people from other countries to work on their plantations. Immigrants in search of a better life and a way to support their families back home were willing to make the arduous journey to Hawai‘i and make significant sacrifices to improve the quality of life for their families.

The immigrants, however, did not expect the tedious, back-breaking work of cutting and carrying sugar cane 10 hours a day, six days a week. Some accounts indicate those who worked in the mills had to face 12-hour workdays. Women had it worse. They were responsible for weeding the sugar cane fields, stripping off the dry leaves — for roughly only two-thirds compensation of what men were paid.

Diversity with Bad Intentions

The first wave of immigrants were from China in 1850. The plantation owners relished the idea of cheap labor and intended to keep it that way. The first group of Chinese workers reportedly had five-year contracts for a mere $3.00 a month, plus travel, food, clothing and housing.

The Japanese, Koreans and Filipinos came after the Chinese. Diversity was important to the sugar plantation owners, but not for the same reasons we value diversity in the workplace today. For the owners, diversity had a self-serving, utilitarian purpose: increased productivity and profitability. Some owners paid the ethnic groups different wages to sow discord and distrust. Pitting the ethnic groups against each other prevented the workforce from banding together to gain power and possibly start a revolt.

The owners divided the ethnic groups into different camps. Yet, the islands’ natural Spirit of Aloha through collaboration and mutual trust and respect eventually prevailed in the plantations. The different groups shared their culture and traditions, and developed their own common hybrid language — Hawaiian pidgin — a combination of Hawaiian, English, Japanese, Chinese, and Portuguese. It was a reverse Tower of Babel experience. The owners brought in workers from other countries to further diversify the workforce. Their strategy was to flood the marketplace with immigrant laborers, thereby enabling the owners to lower wages, knowing workers had no other option but to accept the wages or be jobless and possibly disgrace their families.

Lesson #3: Be bold. Knowing your rights is liberating.

Imagine being constantly whipped by your boss for not following company rules. This was commonplace on the plantations. Luna, the foreman or supervisors of the plantations, did not hesitate to wield their power with whips to discipline plantation workers for getting out of line. The workers were even subject to rules and conduct codes during non-working hours. They were forbidden to leave the plantations in the evening and had to be in bed by 8:30 p.m.

Workers were also subjected to a law called the Master and Servants Act of 1850.   Because of the need for cheap labor, the Kingdom of Hawaii adopted the Master and Servants Act of 1850 which essentially was just human slavery under a different name.  The law provided the legal framework for “indentured servants” or laborers in bondage to a plantation enforced by cruel and unusual punishment from the Kingdom – the shared economic goal of slave-law to harness labor. 

For example, under the law,  absenteeism or refusal to work allowed the contract laborer to be apprehended by legal authorities (police officers or agents of the Kingdom) and subsequently sentenced to work for the employer an extra amount of time over and above the absence. In addition, if the contract laborer tried to run away, the law permitted their employers to use “coercive force” such as “bounty hunters” to apprehend them as if they were runaway slaves.  These conditions made it impossible for these contract workers to escape from a life of eternal servitude.

However, things changed on June 14, 1900 when Hawai‘i was formally recognized as a U.S. territory. It abruptly shifted the power dynamics on the plantations. The existing labor contracts with the sugar plantation workers were deemed illegal because they violated the U.S. Constitution, which prohibits slavery and involuntary servitude.

Finding new found freedom, thousands of plantation workers walked off their jobs. Many who left the plantations never looked back. They left with their families to other states or returned to their home countries. Although there were no formal organized unions, that year 25 strikes were documented. The cumulative effect of all of those strikers was positive: within a year, wages increased by 10 cents a day to 70 cents a day. This left the owners no other choice, but to look for additional sources of immigrant labor, luring more Japanese, Puerto Ricans, Koreans, Spanish, Filipinos and other groups or nationalities.

Lesson #4: Harness the collective power of unions

By 1946, the sugar industry had grown into a major economic engine in Hawai‘i. More than 100,000 people lived and worked on the plantations — equivalent to 20 percent of Hawai‘i’s total population.

The International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) was able to successfully unite and organize the different ethnic groups from every camp on every plantation. As a result, they were able to launch a strike in 1946 that lasted 79 days. Unlike other attempts to create disruption, this was the first time a strike shut down the sugar industry. All but one of the 34 largest plantations were impacted.

A Solid Foundation

This was a pivotal event in Hawai‘i’s labor history which eventually became a part of the fabric of our society today.  It was from these events that the unions were recognized as a formidable force in leveling the playing field and as a means to address social, political and economic injustice. Community organizing became a way of life for workers and their families. The Aloha Spirit eventually transformed and empowered the plantation workers and strengthened their support for each other. Today, the Aloha Spirit continues to prosper and guide our people and embodied as a State law under HRS, §5-7.5

Those early plantation experiences set the stage for ongoing change and advancements in the labor movement that eventually led to the public’s support for oppressed public employees, who at the time were the lowest paid in the nation and had the least favorable job security and benefits. Their work lives were subject to the vagaries of political machinations. For years, the public-sector unions sought to enact collective bargaining rights for its members. It wasn’t until the 1968 Constitutional Convention that convention delegates made a strong statement and pushed for public employees to have a right to engage in collective bargaining.  

During the general election of November 5, 1968, the people of Hawai’i voted to amend the State’s Constitution to grant public employees the right to engage in collective bargaining under Article XIII, Section 2.  Two years later, the Legislature passed Act 171, the Hawaii Collective Bargaining Law for Public Employees, in 1970. This law provided public employees the right to elect an exclusive bargaining agent for representation and to negotiate an employment contract with the executive branch of government. At last, public-sector employees could enjoy the same rights and benefits as those employed in the private sector.

The decades of struggle have proven to be fruitful. Due to the collaborative work of the unions, in combination with other civil rights actions, today all ethnicities can enjoy middle-class mobility and reach for the American dream.  Today, all Hawai‘i residents can enjoy rights and freedoms with access and availability to not only public primary education but also higher education through the University of Hawai‘i system. Individuals can strive and realize their dreams of becoming professors, legislators, physicians, attorneys, and other highly sought after professions as a result of the tremendous sacrifices, pain, suffering, and perseverance of past generations who fought to provide all of us with the better life we have today.

Shaping the Destiny of Hawai‘i

We must each, in our way, confront the deeper questions: What can we do to ensure that the hard-won freedoms that we have been entrusted with are not stripped away from the bloody hands who fought for them?  How do we ensure that these hard-earned gains will be handed down to not only our children but also our grandchildren, and great-grandchildren? 

We must not simply enjoy the benefits gained from those who worked so hard in the past without consideration for the future.  We cannot achieve improved working conditions and standards of living just by ourselves. We must work collectively together and utilize our legal and constitutional rights to engage in collective bargaining to ensure our continued academic freedom, tenure, equity, democracy, and all our other hard earned rights. 

During these unprecedented times we must work collectively together and utilize our legal and constitutional rights to engage in collective bargaining to ensure our continued academic freedom, tenure, equity, and democracy.  We must protect these and all other hard-earned and hard-fought for rights.

Tenure: A Key to Creating a Virtuous Cycle

Editor’s note: In previous articles about tenure (Historical Roots of Tenure, How Tenure Benefits Us All) , we emphasized the importance of tenure to protect academic freedom and to maintain high standards of quality for instruction and research at the University of Hawai‘i. In this third, in a series of articles, we take a look at the value of tenure for universities, students and the broader community.


Today, we recognize this as the formula that helped change the world, an expression of Albert Einstein’s groundbreaking scientific work on the theory of relativity. The formula, based on his exploration of the mathematics of relativity, serves as the basis of modern physics and has shaped our understanding of mass and energy.

In 1905, these were revolutionary concepts that the public had a hard time grasping and accepting. Fortunately, the German physicist was welcomed into the circle of Europe’s most eminent physicists and given professorships in Zurich, Prague and Berlin. In those positive academic environments, Einstein flourished even more, conducting further research and teaching, which led to more discoveries, including the existence of black holes.

But what if Einstein was unable to find universities that were committed to intellectual exploration and embraced academic freedom? Where would the world be today without his theories if he were not given the freedom and ability to explore?

The Virtuous Cycle

On the other side of the world, in the middle of the Pacific Ocean, two years later, the University of Hawaiʻi was founded in 1907 under the Morrill Act as a land-grant college of agriculture and mechanic arts near Thomas Square park. It was a bold, strong statement that Hawai‘i was prepared to make its mark in the world.

The University of Hawai‘i must drive innovation, uncover new knowledge, and share their findings with students, and the local and global communities.  This is the mission of the University of Hawai‘i and other distinguished R-1 universities. It is also the core, underlying rationale for providing faculty tenure at these universities. More than a mere pat on the back for good work, tenure demonstrates a university’s commitment and recognition to be a part of a cycle and process that propels humankind forward.

Tenure has a positive, distinctive, multiplier effect in the community. When a university grants faculty members tenure, it shows the university is committed to being a high quality institution by giving faculty the license and freedom to expand and explore their chosen disciplines. This results in quality teaching and outstanding students, who in turn can go on to pursue further research to make a positive contribution for our society and tomorrow’s world.

The Tenure Process

The tenure process is a quality control mechanism. When a new employee joins an organization, it’s customary to have a probation period that could last as long as six months. This period allows the organization that hired the employee to assess the new employee’s skills and aptitude for the job.

In a higher education system, newly-hired faculty members who have not earned tenure from another comparable university, are also subject to a probationary period. The probation period allows time to assess eligible, full-time faculty members before they are awarded tenure at a UH campus.

In the current faculty contract negotiated by UHPA with the UH administration and the UH Board of Regents, UH faculty members who hold positions in teaching and/or research and/or extension and/or specialized work are all eligible for tenure at one of the 10 UH system campuses, recognizing that all faculty contribute to a well-rounded learning experience for students. (The contract devotes an entire section to tenure and promotions. You can read it by clicking here.) 

Ensuring Quality Right from the Start

Tenure conditions and length are established when a letter of hire (or offer) is extended to the individual faculty to join the UH. This letter clearly states the terms and conditions of employment between the employer and faculty member. These letters of hire are subject to review by UHPA since these letters contain details concerning obtaining tenure and other impact on working conditions.

After nearly a year and a half of discussions, UHPA and UH administration signed a memorandum of understanding regarding letters of hire in January 2017. They mutually agreed that all Unit 7 members must receive a written offer or letter of hire that specifically detailed all the terms and conditions offered, and thereafter, accepted as an enforceable letter of hire through the collective bargaining process. This was a major step toward providing greater clarity, transparency, and consistency for faculty as well as the UH.

A Long Probation Period

Unlike professionals in other settings, a university’s probationary period far exceeds the typical six months.  At UH, the probationary period is a minimum of five years not to exceed seven years. The current contract does provide, when appropriate, a probationary period which can be shortened, lengthened, or eliminated. For specific probation periods, click on the University of Hawaii’s chart.

As a result of the extraordinary adjustments that UH faculty had to rapidly implement at the start of the pandemic last year, the UH administration and UHPA signed a memorandum of understanding in July of 2020 that allows existing probation periods to further extend for an additional year as long as the overall period does not exceed beyond eight years.

Ongoing Quality Control

Earning tenure is a rigorous process. Faculty members must demonstrate a high degree of professional competence and expertise in their respective field. Only after years of work, supported by numerous documents of evidence, does a faculty member complete her or his probationary period and earn her or his tenure.

Once faculty receive tenure, this does not mean they can rest on their laurels. Tenure is not the end of the academic journey, but a tool to aid in their future journeys. Tenure is followed by ongoing assessments every five years from administrators and colleagues who must determine if tenured faculty members are maintaining their commitment to furthering knowledge and sharing expertise with students, colleagues, and the institution they are committed to serve.

Ongoing Collaboration

Tenure should not be considered as an employee benefit or a reward for faculty. Rather, It is a benefit and reward that serves the institution itself, its students, the broader community, and out State. Since retaining high-quality faculty is important to the University of Hawai‘i, tenure must continue to play an important and vital role in the institution and continuously evolve in the Faculty contract.  UHPA is committed to continuing to work with the UH administration to develop a resolution that will result in a report on the reasoning and value of tenure to present to the Senate Committee on Higher Education before the start of the next legislative session in 2022.

UHPA responds to Gov. Ige calling off furloughs

Editor’s note: The following statement was issued to KITV in response to Gov. David Ige’s announcement that he was calling off state furloughs and layoffs after President Biden signed the $1.9 trillion COVI-19 relief bill:

“The University of Hawai‘i Professional Assembly acknowledges Governor Ige’s press release and decision to call-off layoffs and furloughs for the foreseeable future due to the $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan. With that major distraction and focal point of anxiety and confusion behind us, UHPA looks forward to continuing to work in collaboration with the Governor, the UH, and our political leaders to push forward and help with our state’s economic recovery.”

Christian Fern
Executive Director
University of Hawai‘i Professional Assembly

How Tenure Benefits Us All

Editor’s note: Many faculty may know about the importance of tenure, but not many may fully realize the inherent value, principle, and standards tenure offers an institution and in this situation for the University of Hawai‘i and our state. This is the second in series on the importance of tenure to help UH faculty and the UH administration collaboratively work together in examining and determining best practices and to present recommendations to legislators before the start of the 2022 legislative session.

Five Reasons Tenure Benefits the University of Hawai‘i and the Community

Every faculty member may be well versed and acquainted with how tenure supports their academic endeavors, but not many faculty may realize how tenure benefits the University of Hawai‘i and our State. Here are the top reasons tenure creates a win-win situation for everyone:

Reason #1: Tenure upholds the University of Hawai‘i’s academic reputation

The University of Hawaii is classified as an R1: Doctoral University (very high research activity), that participates in the sea-grant, space-grant, and sun-grant research consortia and is one of only four such universities across the country (Oregon State University, Cornell University, and Pennsylvania State University are the three others). Without tenure and academic freedom, faculty would not have the latitude able to stretch the boundaries of research and innovation. Ultimately, independent inquiry and research supports and enhances the reputation of the University of Hawai‘i.

Faculty who believe they could be terminated arbitrarily would be less inclined to take risks in their research to avoid commercial or political pressure. They might also be hesitant about sharing their research findings with students. (Yes, faculty classified as researchers are also involved with teaching students sometimes in a classroom but more often in the field or laboratories.)

Reason #2: Tenure supports community service

When University of Hawai‘i faculty feel they work for a university system that has a vested interest in their success, this creates a sense of reciprocity. Faculty want to contribute back to their community. They want to volunteer their expertise and be involved. And with tenure, they can support issues that are important to them and the community without political or commercial pressure.

Reason #3: Tenure is a quality control mechanism

There is a misnomer that once a faculty member is tenured, they are set for life. Tenure simply means a faculty member has undergone a rigorous probation period that involves having their scholarly works published in journals and other requirements to showcase their professional capabilities. However, the journey doesn’t end there. Tenured faculty must continue to be subject to annual post-tenure evaluations by their peers and demonstrate that they are subject matter experts and still being productive.

Reason #4: Tenure keeps the best and the brightest

Tenure is a retention tool. Tenure attracts and retains quality faculty. This is especially important for the University of Hawai‘i because we constantly compete with so many external factors. Hawai‘i’s high cost of living, including lack of truly affordable housing, make it challenging for faculty to make a long-term commitment to Hawai‘i, even though they may be passionate about what they do and may genuinely love Hawai‘i and its people. Top-notch faculty may also be lured away by more promising or lucrative private-sector jobs or better compensated faculty positions — with tenure — at competing universities.

Reason #5: Tenure Supports Student Enrollment

When the University of Hawai‘i strives to lower its operating costs by hiring more part-time faculty or placing them in positions that are not considered tenure-track positions, this sends a signal to prospective students that the university is not committed to academic excellence. (Currently, only about half of University of Hawai‘i members of bargaining unit 7 are tenured or in tenure-track positions.) This may give Hawai‘i students second thoughts about applying or remaining at the University of Hawai‘i. As other universities have noted, this negatively impacts enrollment. Student tuition makes up about 40% of the University of Hawai‘i’s revenue.

If a university prohibits tenure, this would impede the ability to hire and retain the most promising professors, and degrees awarded to students would not be as valued. The value of University of Hawai‘i graduates would also decline.

Tenured senior faculty bring in the lion’s share of external funding. 

Non tenure track faculty if they do bring in funds then become very attractive to other universities and can move, taking their awards with them..

The Historical Roots of Tenure

Editor’s Note: UHPA is currently working collaboratively with the UH administration to develop a senate resolution which will result in a report on the value of tenure to present to legislators before the start of the next legislative session in 2022. Sen. Donna Mercado Kim, chair of the Senate Higher Education Committee, requested this at a recent legislative committee hearing after deferring SB 1329, which proposed eliminating tenure for non-instructional faculty.  UHPA takes this assignment seriously. In today’s Monday Report, we present the first in a series of articles on tenure to ensure faculty have a thorough understanding of this important topic so that we can speak with one voice as we move forward together.

The Historical Roots of Tenure

Mention the word “tenure” today and chances are most people — including fellow faculty members — will immediately associate it with “job security” or “indefinite appointments.” However, the concept of tenure was initially introduced to protect academic freedom, support the common good and provide a quality learning experience for students.

A Brief Overview

How did the concept of tenure develop? In the late nineteenth and early twentieth century, a number of prominent faculty in our country were being dismissed by university administrations and governing boards for advocating and teaching unpopular views. It would be the equivalent of you being dismissed by UH administrators or the UH Board of Regents because they did not agree with the premise of the research you were pursuing or because the books you selected for your students to read for your class made them uncomfortable.

It may seem incredulous that something like this would happen today, but decades ago, this was not unusual. Those highly-publicized cases caught the attention of professors who were critical of those dismissals, but remained powerless to fight back.

Tenure Linked to High-Quality Higher Education

Those incidents prompted professors to found the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) in 1915. The focus of this new organization’s mission: to protect academic freedom. This led to the development of AAUP’s Declaration of Principles on Academic Freedom and Academic Tenure. This defining landmark statement outlined the connection between tenure and academic freedom, and why academic freedom was essential for high-quality education, research and service to benefit the public. That statement has been updated over the years, but its underlying principles continue to serve as the foundation for the current tenure system in universities.

Tenure protects against censorship or discipline of faculty from special interests, religious organizations, corporations, and government entities, including elected officials. Ultimately, this safeguards against the abuse of power and upholds the integrity of the academic institution. This allows UH faculty to teach students without commercial or political pressure and allows students to explore academic subjects without constraints.  

Academic Freedom and Constitutional Freedom

Some have attempted to argue that tenure and academic freedom are unnecessary because the First and Fourteenth Amendments already protect freedom of expression and equal protections under the law. However, it is important to note that while the First and Fourteenth Amendments may protect faculty from government interference when expressing their views outside a university setting, the Constitution does not protect them from what may occur within the university — namely from administrators and governing board members, or even other faculty members. In other words, Constitutional protections are not adequate to protect academic freedom. Tenure fills this void.

Ensuring Quality

Some may hold the misconception that tenure condones mediocrity or complacency among faculty. Some may even say a tenured faculty member can never be terminated. This is simply not true. The tenure system is not designed to protect professional incompetence. The purpose of tenure is to prevent faculty from being terminated for wrong or arbitrary reasons, such as pursuing unpopular research, teaching about controversial points of view relating to instruction, holding high academic standards, or even speaking out against the university’s administration or governing board.

The value of tenure also extends to students as it ensures a high-quality educational experience. UH students — Hawaii’s next generation of community and business leaders — reap the benefits of tenure as they learn from faculty who are the best in their fields. The lives of students are touched and transformed by faculty in and outside of the classroom as learning occurs from researchers, instructors, specialists and extension agents. 

These and other critically important points will serve as the basis of our report that we are collaboratively developing with UH administration.

Watch for “Five Reasons Tenure Benefits the University of Hawai‘i and the Community” in next week’s Monday Report.

It’s Time to Own Our Future

(Editor’s note: The following op-ed was submitted to the Star Advertiser and a version of it appeared in the 2/28 issue)

By Liz Ho, and Wilbert Holck

In trying times, it’s tempting to cut government spending. But eliminating or curtailing essential services has devastating impacts on the public. It may seem counterintuitive, but this is the time to invest in services that support the community to accelerate economic recovery.

Most of us have not lived through a pandemic before, but this isn’t our first experience with a recession. We know what works for economic recovery. We’ve also learned — the hard way — what doesn’t work.

It’s easy to forget that throughout the pandemic, dedicated people in the public sector — members of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association, Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii State Teachers Association, State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, and United Public Workers — have been providing critical services to keep our state functioning. These same people will be key to our state’s economic recovery. It would be a grievous misstep to furlough or lay off the very people who provide the services that will lift us out of economic despair.

Unfortunately, some may hold negative views of the public sector. Their argument is simplistic: “The state has a budget shortfall of $1.4 billion. The solution is to cut government jobs and eliminate programs.”

This false, perverse notion of shared suffering will not make things better. Clearly, self-centered, crabs-in-the-bucket thinking will not move Hawaii toward economic recovery. Government spending, jobs and the services provided have historically pulled our country and states out of the worst recessions and depressions.

Sadly, government employees have been portrayed as entitled. Fortunately, there are legislators who have not bought the artificial demarcations between private-sector and public-sector employees and are looking at the greater good. 

We can learn from the ill-conceived furloughs and budget cuts imposed by past administrations. Those bad decisions still haunt us today. This time we must be more circumspect and confront the hard questions:

  • Do we cut spending in public health during our ongoing battle with the pandemic?
  • Do we curtail allocations for human services when enrollment in Medicaid and the Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program (SNAP) have become even more vital safety net government programs to escape the clutches of our ailing economy?
  • Do we forgo inspections for invasive species and enforcement of natural conservation efforts that can permanently alter our precious ecosystem?
  • When many have turned to outdoor recreation to alleviate the stress of this pandemic, is it best to cut back on care and maintenance of our public parks and recreational facilities?  
  • Do we fire teachers and educational assistants when we already have a teacher shortage?   
  • Do we cut funding for higher education, making students unable to meet graduation requirements and hinder their job prospects? Are we willing to jeopardize hundreds of millions of dollars in non-state funding for university-level research that creates jobs and learning opportunities for students?
  • Do we dismantle the systems in place to protect the public from COVID-19 scams?
  • Do we eliminate social services provided by government agencies when emotional stress is at an all-time high? If we follow the small-minded line of thinking, should the nonprofit sector also share in the pain?

In the absence of strong, visionary leadership, the public-sector unions have been at the forefront of advocating for a better future. We have an opportunity to define Hawaii’s future. How we invest — or don’t invest — will determine the future we create for ourselves and future generations. It’s time to stop tearing each other down, own our future, and begin to work together.

Christian Fern is executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA); Liz Ho is administrator of United Public Workers (UPW); Wilbert Holck is executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA). Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA), Bobby Lee, president of the Hawaii Fire Fighters Association (HFFA) and Malcolm Lutu, president of the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), contributed to this commentary.

Will Self-Insurance Save EUTF millions?

The below letter was sent to the Editors of the Star Advertiser and publishes some financial facts in response to various voices claiming substantial EUTF liability savings if a “self-insurance” model is adopted. UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern serves as secretary-treasurer of the EUTF board of trustees.

February 18, 2021

Honolulu Star-Advertiser

To the editor:

The SARS-CoV-2 virus has brought the world to its knees, sickening and killing millions.  Not in a generation has the importance of health and sustainability been so clear.  The Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund (EUTF) provides medical, prescription drug, dental, vision and life insurance benefits to nearly 200,000 state and county employees, retirees and dependents.  As the largest provider of such benefits in the State, it has been the center of much discussion.  These discussions must start with facts.

Hawaii, like most other states prior to 2014, only paid the current retiree health care premiums under a fiscally unsustainable “pay-as-you-go” funding structure.  No money was set aside as the employees earned their retiree health benefits, resulting in an unfunded liability.  As of July 1, 2020, the State’s unfunded liability for retiree health benefits was $8.9 billion.  While this number is significant, the state‘s actuary had projected in 2013 the liability to be $10.7 billion at July 1, 2020.  Additionally, in the 2020 valuation, the state experienced a $733 million actuarial gain due to lower than projected retiree premiums that reduced projected state contributions by $3.6 billion over a 35-year period.  This progress is due to many reasons.  

The State has taken measures to address the unfunded liability by:  1) establishing a mechanism to fund the liability, 2) optimizing investment returns, 3) maximizing federal subsidies, 4) limiting growth in benefit plan costs, and 5) modifying retiree benefits for new employees.  

Self-insurance, whereby the EUTF would assume all risk for payment of all claims under the health insurance plans it offers, is another mechanism that has been discussed. This arrangement has not been pursued by the EUTF because savings would be minimal, especially in comparison to the financial risk that would be assumed. There would no administrative cost savings.  The cost to insure the EUTF against unexpected claims is estimated to be $13 million annually.  As a point of reference, the EUTF plans pay out over $750 million in state claims annually.  Self-insuring could actually result in additional costs if these plans experienced losses.  

Due to its scale, EUTF self-insured and insured methods would result in fairly stable and similar annual costs, with the insured model providing significant value in the event of catastrophe. Prefunding payments are not related to the insurance model used by EUTF plans.  As described earlier, the large prefunding payments are the result of failing to fund retiree health benefits during their employment.  The Act 268, 2013 prefunding payments will continue as scheduled unless its provisions are amended.  

Facts are always important and especially so in these difficult times that require difficult decisions.  The EUTF Board continues to provide decision makers and the public with the facts and well-supported recommendations as it undertakes its mission to provide employers, employees and retirees “quality benefit plans that are affordable, reliable and meet their changing needs.”  

EUTF Board of Trustees

  • Roderick Becker, Chairperson
  • Damien Elefante, Vice-Chairperson
  • Christian Fern, Secretary-Treasurer
  • Jacqueline Ferguson-Miyamoto
  • Audrey Hidano
  • Laurel Johnston
  • Celeste Nip
  • Osa Tui
  • Ryker Wada
  • James Wataru