In Memoriam: UHPA’s First Executive Director Jerome “Jerry” Comcowich

UHPA joins others in mourning the loss of Jerome “Jerry” Comcowich, a retired UH faculty member who was UHPA’s first executive director. Jerry became a founding member of UHPA in 1973 and served the union for decades as a board member and as delegate to National Education Association meetings.

Jerry was walking in a bike lane near his Enchanted Lake residence on the morning of September 3, when a driver of a pick-up truck struck him and two other parked vehicles. He was taken to the hospital in critical condition where he later passed away.

The loss of this healthy 80-year-old who enjoyed running 10 miles a week is tragic, but Jerry’s commitment to service and contributions to the community will not be forgotten.

“Everyone who has crossed our path over the years has had an important role in shaping what the UHPA is today,” said Christian Fern, UHPA executive director. “We’re proud to be beneficiaries of the work of people like Jerry.”

Jerry joined the UH as an assistant professor in the College of Education in 1969, serving as an academic advisor and developmental counselor. He later joined the School of Ocean and Earth Science and Technology (SOEST) and was instrumental in planning the SOEST building. Jerry retired in 2009 from his tenured faculty position at SOEST’s International Center for Climate and Society.

While at the University, he took several leaves of absence to grow professionally and serve the community. In 1977, he was named special assistant to U.S. Sen. Spark Matsunaga, working in Washington, D.C. His primary areas of focus were higher education, transportation and labor. He also worked as a special assistant to U.S. Sen. Daniel Akaka, beginning in 1990, and focused on labor, education and foreign affairs legislation.
In 1994, he was appointed by President Bill Clinton as a special assistant to Assistant Secretary for Postsecondary Education David Longanecker in the U.S. Department of Education. In that position, he advocated for student financial aid to ease the burden of debt from tuition for college graduates.

Jerry’s family has requested memorial gifts be directed to the Hawaii Food Bank. On behalf of all UHPA members, UHPA has made a contribution as a tribute to Jerry and in honor of his life and support to UHPA.

2020 Newly Elected UHPA Board of Directors & Officers

On Saturday, April 25, 2020 the UHPA Board of Directors met via Zoom and welcomed six (6) newly elected and two (2) re-elected Board members from across Hawai‘i .

Elected to represent their campus for three-year terms are:

  • Norman Takeya (re-elected), Assistant Professor of Architecture Engineering & CAD Technologies, representing Honolulu Community College
  • Kelli Nakamura, Assistant Professor of Arts & Humanities (History), representing Kapiolani Community College
  • Sarah Gray, Instructor & Librarian, representing Windward Community College
  • Jason Kenji Higa (re-elected), Assistant Professor of Anatomy, Biochemistry & Physiology, representing the University of Hawaii at Mānoa
  • Sarita Rai, Director of the Study Abroad Center, representing the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
  • Joe Ramos, Researcher & Deputy Director of the UH Cancer Center, representing the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
  • Susanne Still, Professor of Department of Information & Computer Sciences, representing the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa
  • Chun Han Wang, Professor of the Academy for Creative Media, representing the University of Hawai‘i at Mānoa

An election of new officers for the UHPA Executive Committee was conducted at this BOD meeting. UHPA President Ashley Maynard’s term continues through 2021.  Congratulations to the newly elected officers:

Vice President: Karla Hayashi, UH-Hilo
Secretary: Jason Kenji Higa, UH-Mānoa
Treasurer: David Duffy, UH-Mānoa
Members-at-Large: Harald Ebeling (UH-Mānoa), Alphie Garcia (UH-West Oahu), Samuel Giordanengo (Hawai’i CC)

2020 UHPA Board of Directors’ Election

In accordance with the UHPA Bylaws, the UHPA Nominations & Elections Committee is charged with preparing a list of nominees for the 2020 Board of Directors’ Election.

On April 3, 2020, all UHPA Active members of the relevant constituency units (Honolulu CC, Kapiolani CC, Windward CC & UH-Manoa) will receive an email notice with voting information and instructions on voting electronically. A link to all candidates’ biographical information and personal statements will also be provided. The voting period for the UHPA Board of Directors’ Election will run from April 3, 2020 through April 20, 2020.

Christian Fern Named Executive Director

Christian Fern Named Executive Director of University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA)

UHPA board of directors unanimously voted Christian Fern as the new executive director, effective December 1, 2019.

Fern, who has served as an associate executive director with UHPA since July 2015, succeeds Kristeen Hanselman, who joined UHPA in December 2007. Hanselman will continue to serve as executive director, a position she has held for the past four years, to ensure a smooth leadership transition.

“We began to discuss the leadership transition process in February this year and conducted an exhaustive search as part of our due diligence,” said Ashley Maynard, president of the UHPA board of directors. “We reviewed a number of candidates, and Christian’s leadership experience and understanding of legislative advocacy, collective bargaining, and the challenges faculty face, made him the ideal choice to continue to lead the union forward.”

Prior to serving as an associate executive director for UHPA, Fern worked for the state’s two largest health plans, HMSA and Kaiser Permanente. He worked at HMSA for 16 years in progressively responsible roles that led to his position as manager of the Employer-Union Trust Fund and federal plan. At Kaiser Permanente, he was manager of large accounts for state and federal plans.

Fern worked as a legislative intern for the Senate Judiciary Committee while he was a University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa political science student, and returned to the Senate Judiciary Committee as a committee clerk after he graduated.

“Being a part of UHPA has provided me with valuable insights and a deep understanding of the issues facing Hawai‘i’s public sector unions and the University of Hawai‘i,” Fern said. “In this post-Janus world, the public-sector unions will need to continue to provide traditional forms of union representation while seeking new and innovative opportunities to connect with members and prospective members.”

“It has been a pleasure to work with Christian as he gained exposure to the different challenges of union representation,” Hanselman said, noting that Fern has represented members on grievances and arbitrations, worked with faculty and the UH administration on contract enforcement and interpretation, participated in lobbying at the State Legislature to represent faculty interests, and been involved in short- and long-range strategic planning.

Fern, a Honolulu resident, is a Punahou School graduate and received a bachelor of arts degree in political science from the University of Hawai‘i-Mānoa. He also completed the Advanced Labor Studies Program at Rutgers University in New Brunswick, New Jersey.

Gov. David Ige appointed Fern to the Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund, and Fern now serves as the chair of the trust. The Hawaii Employer-Union Health Benefits Trust Fund provides medical, chiropractic, prescription drug, dental, vision, and life insurance benefits to all eligible State of Hawaii, City and County of Honolulu, County of Hawaii, County of Maui and County of Kauai employees and retirees. EUTF covers more than 190,000 lives: 68,000 employees, 47,000 retirees, and 80,000 dependents. Fern also serves a chair of EUTF’s investment committee and is a member of its benefits committee.

UHPA 2019 NEWLY ELECTED DIRECTORS & OFFICERS

On Saturday, April 27, 2019 the UHPA Board of Directors met and welcomed eight newly elected and two re-elected Board members from across Hawai‘i .

Elected to represent their campus for three-year terms are:

  • Samuel Giordanengo, Associate Professor of History, representing Hawaii Community College.
  • Jeffrey Mexia, Assistant Professor in English, representing Kauai Community College.
  • Karla Hayashi, Director of Kilohana, representing the University of Hawaii at Hilo.
  • Daniel Harris-McCoy, Associate Professor of Language & Literature of Europe and Americas, representing the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
  • Akihiko Masuda (re-elected), Associate Professor of Psychology, representing the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
  • Erik Guentner, Professor of Mathematics, representing the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
  • Glenn Teves (re-elected), Assistant Extension Agent of CTAHR Maui County, representing the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.
  • Nathaniel Hartmann, Associate Professor of Marketing, representing the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

Elected to represent their campus for one-year terms are:

  • Norman Takeya, Assistant Professor of Architectural, Engineering & CAD Tech, representing Honolulu Community College.
  • Jason Higa, Assistant Professor of Anatomy, Biochemistry & Physiology, representing the University of Hawaii at Mānoa.

Lynne Wilkens, President of UHPA, conducted the meeting as her final act as President. The last item on the agenda was the election of new officers for the UHPA Executive Committee.  Congratulations to:

  • President: Ashley Maynard, UH-Mānoa
  • Vice President: Karla Hayashi, UH-Hilo
  • Secretary: John Casken, UH-Mānoa
  • Treasurer: Tom Apple, UH-Mānoa
  • Members-at-Large:  Erik Guentner (UH-Mānoa),  Jeffrey Mexia (Kauai CC), Glenn Teves (UH-Mānoa)

A Different Take on the U.S. Supreme Court “Janus” Ruling

By Lynne Wilkens, UHPA President

This past week’s U.S. Supreme Court decision on Janus v. AFSCME (American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees) has created a stir across the nation.

The ruling overturns the Supreme Court’s 1977 ruling on Abood v. Detroit Board of Education that has served as a precedent for more than 40 years. Janus serves as a new landmark case and is causing concern over the loss of employee rights and a weakened collective voice in the workplace. There has also been not-so-subtle gloating about renewed power for employers with a legal way to defund and cripple unions.

Backers of Mark Janus, the Illinois child worker, argued collective bargaining is inherently political in nature. Therefore, union members should no longer have to pay member dues because any assertions by unions violate the First Amendment rights of its members.

Yet in Hawaii, there is a different tenor and tone in response to Supreme Court’s decision. Over the past 18 months, the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) armed its members with accurate information to brace them for the anticipated ruling and will continue to update its members as the new law is implemented in our state.

Hawaii embedded collective bargaining in its statutes to “promote harmonious and cooperative relations between government and its employees and to protect the public by assuring effective and orderly operations of government.” This establishes joint decision-making between government and its employees to create a win-win environment that supports Hawaii’s cultural values, our economy and our future.

University of Hawaii faculty members know that with UHPA as their designated union, they can speak with a strong, unified voice to negotiate with the UH administration and governor at the bargaining table. As a unified group, they can persuade legislators to release funds for wages in ratified contracts. All of this may seem overtly political because of the way the faculty contracts are approved and funded.

Under the Janus ruling, UHPA will continue to ensure contracts provide equitable and satisfactory terms of employment for all faculty, regardless of whether they are union members. However, support for grievances and other services will no longer be available to non-paying members. This is fair for the paying members.

Some UHPA members may not want to give up 1% of their salaries for agency fees. But we believe the majority of the members want UHPA’s representation and are willing to pay for it.

The broader community also benefits from a healthy equilibrium of power in the workplace. There is a UH professor who generates $35 million in non-state research funding and 450 jobs. This is only possible because the 4,000 faculty members at the 10 University of Hawaii campuses across the state represented by UHPA can focus on quality teaching, research, and community service due to the good contract they have in place.

Take away faculty’s voice and rights, and these community benefits also go away. Faculty members will not stay at the UH if they are treated unfairly, especially if they are offered a much more attractive compensation package from another university — another type of brain drain.

UHPA has a solid record of effective representation of UH faculty over the past 40 years. The union provides significant value for the dollar in contract negotiations, grievance settlements, and representation of faculty interests. This high-performance service has only been possible because of the collaboration between UHPA and its membership and we are confident this partnership will continue to play a vital role in the future.

Lynne Wilkens is president of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly’s board of directors.

UHPA Leaders Norman Arancon and Melissa Kirkendall awarded Regents’ Medals for Excellence in Teaching

Congratulations to UHPA Director and UHH Assoc. Professor Norman Arancon and UHPA Faculty Representative and UHMC Instructor Melissa Kirkendall for winning the Regents’ Medals for Excellence in Teaching!

“It is indeed quite an honor and a blessing to have been recognized this way. I have learned so much from everyone. “, said Arancon

Additional congratulations to all of the other recipients of the Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Teaching, the Regents’ Medal for Excellence in Research, and the Davis Award for Excellence in Undergraduate Teaching!!

New Board of Directors and Officers Start the 2015-2016 UHPA Term

At our May 2, 2015 Board Meeting, UHPA’s new Board was installed and its officers elected. Congratulations to (left to right), Lynne Wilkens (Treasurer), Nani Azman (Vice-President), Sarita Rai (Secretary), and David Duffy (President).   We thank our new board and officers for their service our faculty!

UHPA Director Sets World Record

Congratulations to UHPA Director, Jennifer Small Griswold, Ph.D., and her husband Brett for setting a new Guinness World Record for longest time danced by a couple.  They danced the Argentine Tango for over 36 hours while simultaneously raising money for the National Federation of the Blind.

Dr. Griswold is an Assistant Professor of Meteorology at UH Manoa.

UPDATE:  Congratulations Jennifer and Brett on ANOTHER world record!

The Griswolds did it again!

This past Sunday (12/14/14) in the Honolulu Marathon, with a time of 11 hours 43 minutes and 8 seconds, UHPA Director, Jennifer Griswold, and her husband Brett broke the Guinness World Record for “The Fastest Marathon Tango Danced by a Couple”!