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.

E=mc2

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.

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.

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

How We Navigate Our Future at UH

The Power of Collaboration:

The Key to Navigating the University of Hawai‘i’s Future

By Christian Fern, Karla Hayashi and David Duffy

The pandemic, even with all of its devastating effects, has brought out the best in some organizations and its employees.

Pivoting has become the watch word throughout the pandemic. We have seen a number of organizations successfully adapt to new constraints. Organizations that are flexible and innovative have welcomed change instead of wallowing in despair. Many of these entities have rapidly evolved into better, more efficient organizations.

There is another quality inherent in these organizations that is often taken for granted: a commitment to collaboration and joint decision-making. Teamwork and consensus-building, based on a mutual respect of each other’s input are critical to successful change, especially in the face of the pandemic’s challenges.

The University of Hawai‘i is one of those organizations that showed it can evolve through the power of collaboration with faculty who are the best and brightest minds in a wide range of fields. The faculty also have a humility about them because they are committed to being life-long learners. Faculty have an intuitive sense that they don’t have a monopoly on knowledge. It is a gift to be freely shared to improve the quality of life for the community.

These faculty qualities were key to enabling the UH to transition from traditional in-person classroom instruction to an online learning environment in a one-week turnaround. About a dozen faculty partnered with the UH administration to ensure all 10 campuses could continue to carry on its instruction and operations safely and securely without interruption. The results? Students could continue their classes to fulfill graduation requirements. In 2020, a total of nearly 10,850 degrees and certificates were awarded to students from all 10 UH campuses statewide.

This was no small feat. It was an exhilarating experience that has left an indelible impression on the UH faculty. Even in the collective bargaining process for a successor faculty contract, which is now well underway, there has been an unprecedented level of collaboration and congenial discussion. The iterative process to refine and define the non-financial terms and conditions of the contract is rapidly progressing forward — without the usual contentious debate and distrust of each other. Actively listening to the concerns and perspectives of each other has been productive.

The response and results gave all of us at the UH a new vision of possibilities. As the UH figures out the best path forward, collaboration is more crucial than ever, especially since 60% of our funding comes from the state. With Hawaii’s $1.4 billion deficit and an economic recovery that many predict will take at least a few years, we need a meeting of the best minds. With faculty playing a key role in generating significant funding for research and support from tuition revenue, they deserve a seat at the decision-making table to ensure the ongoing success of the UH. 

We must tear down artificial walls and silos and we must create opportunities for both faculty and administration to come together to build a better future for the UH. We owe it to the students, now and those in the future, to ensure the UH can maintain its reputation as one of the top research universities in the nation and a school of choice for Hawai’i’s students.

Change is not what makes people unhappy. Faculty are intensely aware of the current financial realities in which the UH must operate. We know change is necessary. However, as with everyone else, faculty want to have a say in shaping their future. We believe any repositioning and reorganization of the UH approached carefully and collaboratively will yield the best results.

Christian Fern is executive director of the University of Hawai‘i Professional Association; Karla Hayashi is an English professor, University of Hawai‘i-Hilo and chair, UHPA negotiating committee; and David Duffy is a botany professor and graduate professor of zoology, ecology, evolution and conservation biology at University of Hawaiʻi-Mānoa and UHPA negotiating committee member.

It Takes a Village to Provide Academic Excellence In and Outside the Classroom

Creating an environment of academic excellence in which students thrive and flourish, realize their fullest potential, and discover new opportunities for growth does not happen by accident. It takes a village of committed faculty to develop a supportive culture of learning, both in and outside of the classroom.

Yet, we are aware non-instructional faculty are being attacked and may be regarded as administrative, professional and technical staff. This nothing new. We’ve been there before.

That’s why your faculty collective bargaining agreement, negotiated by UHPA’s Negotiating Committee, protects all classifications of faculty: “The performance of teaching duties, research, and service extends beyond classroom responsibilities and other direct student contact duties.”

All faculty members are important and necessary parts of a finely-tuned engine that run the organization. Our membership is composed of instructors, researchers, specialists, librarians, extension agents and lecturers. Collectively, we provide all of the teaching, research, service, and support for the entire 10-campus system and community-based learning centers across the state. Together, we all help support and maintain the University and contribute significantly to UH’s standing as one of the country’s recognized R-1 universities.

Protecting Diverse Classifications of Faculty

Your contract states:

“Instructional activities encompass more than just classroom teaching. Other aspects of instruction include, but are not limited to: academic and thesis advising, supervision of instructional activities such as cooperative work experiences, practica, internships, and practice; instructional management, tutoring; curriculum and course development; and creation of teaching and instructional materials, and supervision of laboratory activities. Also, included in the work associated with instruction are the implementation of instructional systems and strategies, distance learning technologies, and student evaluation and assessment.

Faculty workload is not limited to instruction. It may include disciplinary research, scholarly activities, or creative endeavors; service to the academic community, the government, the private sector, and other public interest groups; outreach programs; student advising and counseling; equipment and facilities development and maintenance; and information systems development and implementation, including professional librarian services, or serving as a program coordinator.”

What Does Your Contract Mean?

The definition of “instructional activity” in your contract translates into a positive, comprehensive educational experience for students. Imagine what it would be like if students did not have the expert support from our librarians to access and evaluate appropriate resources for research. Imagine if a student did not have the proper guidance from advisors to determine how to successfully plot their careers. And where would students be without the encouragement and support from counselors to persevere and graduate?

A Proven Barrier of Protection

It is no secret or surprise that not everyone fully appreciates the diversity of faculty roles and responsibilities to effectively function as a whole. This is why UHPA and all faculty must continue to band together to advocate for all of our members in all classifications.

Standing together with other faculty under UHPA’s banner has proven to be the best strategy to protect our members, so that we can, in turn, support our students and the communities in which we operate. As the exclusive bargaining representative for Unit 7 faculty over the past 47 years, UHPA has always been there to look after the best interests of all faculty, and is committed to continuing to be there for the entire village of faculty members.

Attacking Tenure Threatens Democracy

Beware! A Threat to Tenure is a Threat to Democracy

At a time when our nation is still reeling from witnessing brazen acts of insurgency, we must remain vigilant to any potential threats to our democracy, even in respected institutions of higher learning.

Universities across our nation have always been beacons of democracy. Intellectual freedom has always been at the core of our nation’s higher education system. Free thought and free speech without reprisal are the norm and are the very qualities that make universities great, whether in research, in teaching or expressing informed opinions about university and public matters.

Academic Freedom Must Prevail

The rights of faculty to teach, or to speak about or publish their research findings need no justification. Free expression and open, vocal dissent and debate are a critical part of the learning process. Faculty take on the responsibility to advance and transfer their knowledge and expertise. Any threat to freely explore and share their expertise would be unthinkable.

That is why tenure is so critical to proper functioning of a university. Tenure safeguards academic freedom. No special interest group, business interest, or government agency should influence which faculty should or should not be tenured. Any attempt to eliminate tenure or tamper with the tenure process should be regarded as a threat to academic freedom.

The Rigorous Tenure Process

Tenure should not be treated lightly. It is not given out freely like service awards for years of dedicated service. It is a long arduous process that can take up to seven years, akin to being on an extended probation. By contrast, the length of a standard probation for newly hired government civil service employees is six months. The tenure process is also extremely rigorous: it involves extensive peer reviews, and audits of research and publications. Faculty work hard to attain tenure, and rightfully deserve the professional respect tenure affords.

The Connection to Academic Excellence

Tenure is also intricately linked to academic excellence and the reputation of a university. This is especially important for the University of Hawai‘i. The ability to attract and retain high-quality faculty members is largely dependent upon offering tenure as we compete with the rest of the country and world for such faculty.

Faculty involved with great research projects can easily be lured away by other universities, if there is no offering of tenure. This means their extramural funding and accompanying job creation opportunities from research projects would be taken away by faculty recruited by other competing universities out of state, putting the University of Hawai‘i at a disadvantage.

Eventually, our status as one of the 131 R1 universities in the country, defined as those with very high research activity, would also be negatively impacted. We continue to strive to become a top-tier university, and must continue to aspire and maintain the standing and respect we have all earned.  

Exacerbating Hawai‘i’s Brain Drain

It’s easy to see from this scenario that a tenure-less university would further exacerbate Hawai‘i’s brain drain, as students who would prefer to remain in Hawai‘i for school and subsequent work will have second thoughts about making the University of Hawai‘i their school of choice.

A Poignant Example

History has shown the value of tenure. In 2015, Marc Edwards, a professor of civil engineering at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, found high levels of lead in the water in Flint, Michigan. He shared his findings with the public. His tenure status protected him from being disciplined or dismissed. He refused to be silenced at risk of offending powerful business or government interests. Edwards’ commitment to transparency paid off six year later: just two weeks ago former Michigan Governor Rick Snyder and eight other officials were indicted on criminal charges related to their handling of the Flint water crisis, and rightfully charged with willful neglect of duties.

Faculty Must Remain Vigilant

Threats to democracy come in many forms. It may not be a mob attempting to disrupt democratic processes, but may be more subtle bureaucratic forces. A threat to tenure could be cleverly disguised as a way to address the state’s budget deficit without harm or to “right size” the university. Faculty must remain vigilant to threats of democracy occurring in their own backyard.

Regent Jan Sullivan Attacks Academic Freedom

Academic Tenure is Essential to Preserving Academic Freedom

Freezing Tenure? Faculty Must Keep Their Guard Up in Contract Negotiations

With the current contract between the University of Hawai‘i and the UHPA Faculty coming to a close at the end of June 2021, negotiations for a successor agreement are continuing. During this economically challenging time, we should brace ourselves for difficult negotiations, with Employer proposals that seek to threaten the very core of academic life.

The UH Board of Regents meeting held on Thursday, Jan. 7, may be an indication of what’s in store for the future — unless UHPA Faculty members remain vigilant and take proactive measures to intervene.

In a discussion of the actions UH has undertaken to address the state’s budget deficit, University of Hawai‘i Regent Jan Naoe Sullivan said “freezing tenure” should be considered. She told UH President David Lassner that she believes the collective bargaining agreement has been a hindrance in the past and that the current economic climate presented an opportunity to introduce the concept of suspension of tenure that she proclaimed other universities have followed. (Sullivan has brought up similar challenges to the concept of tenure several years back, but that proposal was justifiably shot down.)

A Brazen Attack – Biting The Hand That Powers Your Company

This ongoing, brazen attack on the fundamental principle of academic life was being live streamed statewide and immediately set off a flurry of text and email messages among UH Faculty. Some Faculty were aghast that Sullivan, chief operating officer of Oceanit — which relies heavily on the UH for research to further her company’s business interests — apparently does not understand, recognize nor appreciate the value of a university system. We can only speculate why Sullivan seems hell-bent on insisting tenure be frozen before her term as a Regent ends this year and Gov. David Ige appoints a successor to her seat.

A Lone Voice

Fortunately, there were strong indications Sullivan was once again a lone voice, an outlier among the Board of Regents on this issue. UH BOR Chair Ben Kudo, attempting to appeal to her legal mind, delicately reasoned with her that tenure can only be questioned if a faculty member commits acts that violate the law or contract. Lassner suavely appeared to acquiesce, pointing out tenure suspensions have only been applied at small, private colleges, but also disturbingly suggested perhaps a “targeted” approach to tenure suspensions at the UH. The other Regents remained noticeably silent, perhaps because they understand, recognize, and appreciate the value of tenure and did not wish to embarrass her or themselves.

Let’s work with, not against each other

We hope these kinds of theatrics in the public eye do not represent the sentiment of the entire Board of Regents. Drama like this has no place in negotiations at a time when the state’s dire situation requires all us to work together — rather than against each other. These ill-conceived notions breed distrust and suspicion. They become distractions to moving us forward to meaningful and respectful discussions. We can and must do better when each of us at the table shares the same goals and aspirations for the University of Hawai‘i and appreciates how much higher education and research contribute to our community and our State.

 

 

Image credit:

DRAWING OF PEOPLE WHO CUT DOWN THE BRANCH ON WHICH THEY SIT is licensed under CC BY-NC-ND 4.0. Image has been resized or cropped from original along with minor text changes.

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.

Are you being counted in the 2020 Census?

It’s critical that we are all counted in the 2020 Census and right now it’s not looking very good for Hawaii – please see Congressman Ed Case’s letter received by UHPA below.  He has an important message and we’re encouraging all UHPA members to take the right action to make sure your household is counted in the 2020 Census.  Hawaii’s fair representation is depending on you!

I am reaching out to you, as a leader of Hawaii’s labor community, to ask for your full assistance and that of your own community in ensuring that our Hawai’i is fully counted in the 2020 Census, which is currently scheduled to conclude in just a few weeks on September 30th.

The Census, which our country has undertaken every ten years since 1790, is critical to our country and to each and all of us on several counts. First, it provides us with a regular update on how many and who we are to guide the best national policies. It also determines how many U.S. Representatives each state is designated and ensures that our overall population is as evenly distributed across our congressional district as possible.

Most critically and especially for a small state like Hawai’i, the Census guides the distribution of federal assistance across our country to our states and congressional districts. Hundreds of federal programs in critical areas like education, housing, health care, economic assistance, worker training, occupational safety and health, minority assistance and more depend on the Census statistics for where their federal assistance is directed. For our Hawai’i which receives billions of dollars in federal assistance annually, estimates are that each 1% of our population that is not counted results in over $16 million of lost federal funding. To make matters worse, often the communities that are undercounted are those in the most need of that federal assistance. All of this has been compounded with the dire needs of this COVID-19 pandemic, where trillions of dollars of federal emergency assistance have been distributed and will be distributed based on 2010 Census numbers (and from next year on 2020 Census numbers).

There are two basic stages to the 2020 Census count. In the first, Census responses from all households throughout our state are requested and welcomed voluntarily by phone or online. It is a very easy process that takes five to ten minutes per household. In the second stage, which began August 1st, voluntary responses continue but Census enumerators (counters) will attempt to visit every household that has not responded to take the count personally. Except in limited circumstances, the enumerators will not visit households that have already responded, so it is better and easier for everyone if households respond voluntarily by phone or online.

At present the last counting will be completed this September 30th and the 2020 Census will close. I believe this is way too early especially given COVID-19 and have urged an extension. But for now we must assume September 30th is the deadline. Best estimates now are that close to 40% of our households across our state are still not counted.

I ask for your kokua in taking the message to all of your members and their ‘ohana of the critical importance of a full Census count and asking everyone to do their part.

To assist with this effort to encourage participation in the 2020 Census, you can find a full list of all 2020 Census outreach materials at https://2020census.gov/en/partners/outreach-materials.html. Please feel free to use these however works best for you.

As English is a second language for so many among us in Hawai’i, I especially want to note that the 2020 Census is the first in our history to feature significantly expanded language access. Overall, the 2020 Census has provided language guides in 59 non-English languages, including full support in 12 of those languages: Arabic, Chinese, French, Haitian Creole, Japanese, Korean, Polish, Portuguese, Russian, Spanish, Tagalog and Vietnamese. For the full set of language resources for this year’s Census, including print and video materials, please visit https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/decennial-census/2020-census/planning-management/language-resources.html.

There are multiple ways to respond to the 2020 Census, but by far the easiest way is through the online form at https://my2020census.gov. For other ways to respond to the Census, such as by phone or mail, please visit https://2020census.gov/en/ways-to-respond.html.

If you and any of your communities have any questions regarding the 2020 Census, please feel free to contact my staff for assistance. For Census related matters, you may reach my Washington office through Ben Chao at Ben.Chao@mail.house.gov or (202) 225-2726.

Thank you so much again for your dedication, consideration and assistance. I truly appreciate all that you can do to promote participation in the 2020 Census and all that you do for our community.

With aloha,

Congressman Ed Case

(Hawai’i-First District)