UH Blindsides Us Again

We Heard You Loud and Clear

We recognize and acknowledge all those who took the time to send an email expressing your frustration, concerns, and heightened anxieties about the University of Hawai‘i’s vaccination mandate intended to go into effect in the spring 2022 semester. We realize many of you found the news upsetting and we share your frustration and confusion over what was issued by the UH administration yesterday.

Based on what was posted on the UH website, the UH System Office of Human Resources notified all employees about the mandate and noted: “The three unions representing UH employees were also consulted.”

No, We Weren’t Formally Consulted

For the record, the UH administration never formally consulted UHPA on this matter. We received a letter from the UH Office of Human Resources about the vaccination mandate on October 5, 2021 and immediately requested a consultation meeting with the UH administration as soon as possible. While we agree vaccinations are an effective tool against the spread of COVID-19, we do not agree with the manner in which the mandate was issued, determined, and decreed. To date, we have not yet heard back from the UH administration on possible consultation meeting dates but look forward to engaging in meaningful discussion and dialogue over this significant and sensitive issue.

But This Does Imply Consultation Will Be Required

We do however acknowledge and accept the UH Office of Human Resources noting that the subject matter is under consultation with the unions in their announcement which is a recognition of the UH administration’s desire to formally consult with UHPA and to respect the collective bargaining rights of the faculty under Chapter 89, HRS – irrespective of Governor Ige’s Emergency Proclamation.  We look forward to this formal consultation process with the UH administration and will keep you apprised of our discussions.

We’re Publicly on the Record

Here is a link to an interviews in the media:

Mahalo for your patience as we work through this issue on behalf of our members.

UH Testing Mandate Begins August 23

The University of Hawai‘i administration has informed UHPA that they were told to implement Governor David Igeʻs Emergency Proclamation of August 5, 2021 mandating COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated UH employees to be effective beginning today, Monday, August 23, 2021.

Expect Confusion and Disruption

Due to the rush and short notice for the UH to implement Governor Ige’s Emergency Proclamation of a testing mandate, UHPA expects that campuses will have difficulty in rolling out and understanding how to implement and enforce this testing mandate policy.  As such, the UHPA staff will have all hands on deck this week to help guide UHPA faculty members on any questions and concerns relating to this policy.  Please feel free to contact the UHPA offices if you need any assistance.

COVID-19 Testing Sites on every Campus

While the University of Hawai‘i is currently trying to secure private vendors to provide free COVID-19 testing on each campus for all UH students, faculty and staff, we have received no updates and/or confirmation from the UH that such testing sites will be available on Monday, August 23, 2021.  UHPA recognizes that obtaining a COVID-19 test in the community right now will be challenging and difficult and has expressed these concerns with the UH Administration.  The UH Administration is committed to working with the UHPA leadership to address this fluid situation.

No Religious or Medical Exemptions

Again, there are no religious or medical exemptions that will allow a person to forgo the testing mandate.  Unvaccinated UH employees would be required to be tested. The only exceptions to the testing mandates will be for those UH employees who are authorized to telework or other UH employees who are not required and/or plan to be on campus.  If an unvaccinated UH employee is either called back to campus and/or plans to be on campus, they should plan to obtain a negative COVID-19 test before entering their campus.   

Why we support vaccines and oppose bad management

The below op-ed was submitted to the Star Advertiser and a version of it was published on 8/15/21:

Why we support vaccines and oppose bad management:

By Liz Ho, Malcolm Lutu and Christian Fern

Hawaii’s public employee unions strongly support COVID-19 vaccinations. However, we do not support the emergency proclamation’s requirement to show proof of vaccination or be subject to testing. Gov. David Ige’s recent announcement leaves us perplexed about how the policy will work. We also object to last week’s announcement because he is setting a precedent for employers–public and private–to act unilaterally on decisions that are critical to the health and welfare of employees.

We believe in the scientific research that shows COVID-19 vaccines are very effective at reducing the risk of getting and spreading the disease. We also know that we need a large majority of the population to get vaccinated for life to return to normal. We know that each new vaccinated person makes a workplace much safer. For our members who serve the public, often with face-to-face contact, this is not just a matter of personal safety, but also a matter of keeping our community safe. 

For all these reasons, we strongly encourage public employees and all residents to get vaccinated, and we have taken many steps to support this process since the vaccines became available. Safe workplaces, healthy families, and making individual sacrifices for the good of all are three values at the very core of unions. We stand for those things more than ever during this crisis.

There is another value at our core. We believe employers, whether in the public or private sector, cannot be free to act as dictators over their employees no matter what the reason. In a true democracy, workers must have shared power, especially when it comes to policies that affect their bodies, their livelihoods, and their beliefs. Consultation and negotiation between employers and employees are crucial.

Weeks ago, knowing that COVID-19’s delta variant posed a dangerous new threat, we reached out to the governor and asked him to have a dialogue about vaccines. We were met with silence. That is when the governor made his newest proclamation and he was unable to answer questions on the specifics to explain how this mandate would work.

COVID-19 is a community-wide crisis. We need strong leadership and clear communication. Instead, confusing messages, shifting policies, and half-baked unilateral decisions are making this bad situation worse. Every member of the public knows this. 

There is a better way. Employers in the private sector like The Queen’s Medical Center and in other states like New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy are working with unions and employees to design and implement mandatory vaccine policies. What we are asking for is simple: Sit with the employee unions to negotiate a collaborative agreement for this policy. This means working out the complex details with the stakeholders before making more confusing announcements. For example: who pays for testing, what kinds of tests are acceptable, what about working remotely, what are acceptable reasons for not getting vaccinated, what are the consequences for not being vaccinated? No one wants to live in a world where one person can make all those decisions without even hearing from the people who will be affected, let alone working together on a solution that is fair and effective.

As representatives of the public employees, we seek to work collaboratively with the governor and mayors on policies that impact working conditions and fight this pandemic together. We cannot stand by and have ongoing confusion.

The leaders have an obligation to come to the table because it’s the law. More importantly, it’s the right thing to do, not just for public employees, but for the benefit of all the people of Hawaii.

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

UH Testing Mandate Starts 8/23/21

The University of Hawai‘i has informed UHPA that Governor David Igeʻs Emergency Proclamation of August 5, 2021 mandating COVID-19 testing for unvaccinated UH employees will begin on Monday, August 23, 2021.

COVID-19 Testing Sites on every Campus

The University of Hawai‘i is currently trying to secure private vendors to provide free COVID-19 testing on each campus for all UH students, faculty and staff.

No Religious or Medical Exemptions

Typically, religious or medical exemptions allow a person to forgo mandated vaccinations. Since this is not a vaccination mandate but rather a testing mandate, religious or medical exemptions would not be applicable. This means unvaccinated UH employees would be required to be tested. The only exceptions to the testing mandates will be for those UH employees who are authorized to telework or other UH employees who are not required and/or plan to be on campus.  If an unvaccinated UH employee is either called back to campus and/or plans to be on campus, they should plan and obtain a negative COVID-19 test before entering the campus.   

The University of Hawaii is currently trying to secure private vendors to provide free COVID-19 testing sites on every campus for all UH students, faculty and staff to be tested.

Proposed Vaccination Mandate

The University of Hawai‘i intends to implement a vaccination mandate for all UH students, faculty and staff by the Spring 2022 semester.  A draft proposal has been sent to UHPA by the UH Administration. The UHPA Negotiations Team is currently reviewing and analyzing the UHʻs mandatory vaccination proposal.  As more information and clarification are obtained, UHPAʻs leadership will promptly notify the membership.  Please keep up with UHPAʻs Monday Report for the most up-to-date information on these important issues impacting UH faculty systemwide.

COVID-19 Testing Mandate for UH Faculty?

Caught by Surprise

When Gov. David Ige announced his emergency proclamation last Thursday, August 5, it caught many by surprise, including the public-sector unions. We had not seen the emergency proclamation until it was publicly posted after his press conference. We learned about the Governor’s intentions for the first time along with everyone else. There was no advance courtesy notification, even though the emergency proclamation affects all University of Hawaii faculty and all state and county employees. 

Productive Discussions with UH Administration Underway

Since the unions did not have the benefit of discussions with the Governor prior to him issuing his emergency proclamation, there has naturally been considerable confusion. The unions have been left on their own to figure out how to implement the requirements. Fortunately, the UH administration reached out to UHPA and productive discussions have begun. 

Issuing ambiguous proclamations is not hard; the devil is always in the details. Fortunately, the UH administration is working with UHPA to do the substantive, heavy lifting.

COVID-19 Testing Mandate

Based on UHPA’s preliminary analysis of the emergency proclamation, the Governor is imposing a COVID-19 testing mandate for UH faculty, effective August 16, 2021. To avoid the requirement for frequent, mandatory testing—as often as once a week—UH faculty have the option of being fully vaccinated. According to the emergency proclamation, these tests will be free. There is no need to prove medical or religious exemptions; the testing mandate applies to all those who are not vaccinated, regardless of their personal reason for not being vaccinated.

Disciplinary Action and Grievance Procedures

There are still many outstanding questions and concerns that need to be addressed. The emergency proclamation states the requirements “shall be enforceable through disciplinary action, up to and including termination.” UHPA believes the Governor’s exercise of his emergency management powers does not override or negate the 2021-2023 Unit 7 Agreement, including but not limited to, the disciplinary, grievance, and arbitration procedures as codified in the faculty contract. We are still in the process of confirming this understanding, More to come on this.

As UHPA’s discussions with the UH administration progress, we will keep you apprised.

Public Unions Issue Joint Statement On Governor’s Vaccine Policy

The Hawaii Fire Fighters Association (HFFA), Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA), the Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA), the State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers (SHOPO), the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA), and the United Public Workers (UPW) released the following joint statement in reaction to Gov. David Ige’s plan to impose a vaccination mandate for state and county employees:

We strongly encourage COVID-19 vaccinations as part of our united effort to beat the pandemic and protect our community’s health. The health and well-being of our public employees, who have been essential during this pandemic, remain our top priority while we continue to keep vital government operations running every day.

The public-sector unions reached out to the governor’s office earlier this week to initiate discussions about the vaccine mandate, but our request was denied. We will continue to fight for open discussions about these important decisions that affect public employees, our government operations, and our community.

The emergency proclamation will impact our members’ working conditions and the employer must bargain those impacts with the appropriate collective bargaining units. Details on how tests will be administered, how results will be kept confidential, and how the state will fund this mandate will need to be negotiated with the state and we look forward to having those discussions right away. 

The collective bargaining process is premised on the foundation that a harmonious and cooperative relationship between government and its employees will better protect and serve the public by assuring the effective and orderly operations of government. There is no greater time in our history and existence that this process be recognized and honored.

UHPA Press Contact:

Nathan Hokama, UHPA
Strategic Communication Solutions
(808) 226-7470
nhokama@scsolutions-hi.com

Mandates Subject to Collective Bargaining

Mandates Must Abide With Collective Bargaining Protocols

Any requirement imposed on University of Hawai‘i faculty as a new term or condition of continued employment must be freely discussed and jointly agreed to by the parties before the impact of these requirements can be enforced. This is the recognized standard established via the collective bargaining process to promote harmonious and cooperative relations between government and its employees and to protect the public by assuring effective and orderly operations. 

The UHPA believes this statutory requirement applies to this situation over the mandate to require faculty to be fully vaccinated to continue their employment at the University of Hawai‘i system and the 10 campuses statewide.

We Recognize The Importance of Vaccination

There is no doubt COVID-19 vaccinations play an important role in preventing the transmission of the disease and keeping down the number of cases in our state. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has said those who are fully vaccinated have less chances for severe illness if they contract COVID-19 and this minimizes the need for hospitalizations.

The benefits of the vaccinations, notwithstanding, is important to the parties to adhere to the collective bargaining process.

Courts Are Approving Reasonable Mandates

UHPA does recognize that while this issue is relatively new, there have been significant and impactful recent decisions made by other universities and other public and private organizations to mandate vaccination of students and employees.  These recent mandates have been challenged and approved by the courts and the Federal Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) where employers can require all employees who physically enter the workplace to be fully vaccinated for COVID-19, so long as employers comply with reasonable accommodation provisions of the ADA and Title VII of the Civil Rights Act of 1964 and other EEO considerations.

UHPA Has Worked Well With UH Admin and This Practice Should Continue

UHPA and faculty look forward to engaging in productive and meaningful discussions with the UH administration to explore ways to ensure UH students and faculty have a safe learning environment while also upholding the collective bargaining process.

Throughout the pandemic, UHPA and UH administration have had a productive relationship based on mutual trust and respect. We are confident we will be able to resolve any potential vaccination mandate together through joint decision-making.

UH Rescinds Return To Work Requirement

UHPA’s Negotiations Team has been working with UH over the recent weeks regarding policies concerning returning to work.   These discussions, now being led by Vice President for Community Colleges (VPCC) Erika Lacro are beginning to yield fruitful results and good collaboration, most recently noted by UH President David Lassner announcing that “The previously announced requirement that all employees return to campus August 3 is rescinded and the COVID-19 Telework leave option will remain in place.”

Great Results Are Possible Through Genuine Collaboration

UHPA will continue working with UH in developing a non-COVID-19 telework policy that represents the best interests for all. Christian Fern, Executive Director of UHPA said, “When the pandemic first struck in the Spring of 2020 and there was an immediate shift to distance learning, UH and UHPA demonstrated that we can efficiently work together to resolve issues.  The collaboration resulted in over 17,000 degrees, diplomas and certificates awarded to students during the pandemic. It simply makes sense to continue in this tradition of collaboration with UH, lead by VPCC Erika Lacro, as we now shift to discussing return-to-campus policies that will have long-term positive effects upon the entire UH community”.

We’ll continue to update our members on this progress via our regular Monday Reports. 

UHPA Responds to Campus Reopening Plans

As UHPA continues to join with the UH administration to battle budgetary concerns created by the Senate, it is critical to ensure we remain in alignment with UH administration on other issues impacting faculty and students. It is imperative that we see eye-to-eye on the details of the campus reopening to move forward together. Clear communication and open dialogue are critical to avoid misunderstandings and missteps so we can effectively address bigger issues affecting public higher education in Hawaii.

We Successfully Worked Together at the Start of the Pandemic

When the pandemic and resulting lockdown occurred early last year, the University of Hawai‘i administration and faculty came together to determine how to deliver education in an online environment. Together, we were able to rapidly pivot to ensure there would be no interruption in the education of students and safely carry on research.

That experience showed the value of collaboration to create a positive experience for the UH administration, faculty, students and the community. 

Shouldn’t We Work Together to Plan the Reopenings Too?

Now nearly a year later, with the prospect of the University of Hawaii preparing to resume in-person learning on the campuses statewide, it would be prudent to approach the reopening with the same degree of meticulous detail to cover all the bases to ensure a successful reopening.

UHPA was Notified On 5/20 About the Reopenings

UH Vice President for Administration Jan Gouveia sent a letter dated May 20, 2021 to University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) Executive Director Christian Fern announcing UH’s plans to transition to campus reopenings. The letter sent was subsequently transmitted to the UHPA Negotiations Committee.  

And it Was Brief On Details & Specifics

The perfunctory letter outlined little about the UH’s plan other than the tentative targeted dates, as noted below, to coincide with a full campus reopening in the fall 2021 semester:

  • By June 1, 2021: Remove all signage that campuses are closed to the public. Supervisors should start preparing for all buildings and offices to be open for full, in-person services during normal business hours by July 6, 2021. 
  • July 6, 2021: All UH buildings and offices will be open for full, in-person services during normal business hours. 
  • August 3, 2021: All employees are expected to report to their respective campus offices and resume normal business operations. The COVID-19 Voluntary Telework Policy will be rescinded as current COVID-19 conditions no longer warrant the need for employees to work from home.

We Have Concerns About the Lack of Details

The brevity of details and specifics were very concerning. Such vague reopening plans can lead to many different interpretations, expectations, outcomes, and directives without understanding the UH administration’s intent, purpose, and desired outcomes. To move forward together, we cannot afford ambiguity. Clarity, open communication and collaboration are critical. 

UHPA has Responded and is Looking Forward to Discussions

The UHPA Negotiations Committee wasted no time in sending back a response to the UH Administration on May 27, 2021 — a day before the requested deadline — with a list of questions and requests for information, while also expressing concerns and reservations about resuming normal operations on all campuses on August 3, 2021. 
UHPA has requested that the UH administration respond no later than June 7, 2021 to the list of questions and requests for information so that informative and meaningful discussions and dialogue can commence immediately.    

Latest on vaccination requirements at UH

COVID-19 Vaccinations Required for Faculty?

Vaccination required for students

On May 17, 2021, University of Hawaiʻi President David Lassner publicly announced that it will add COVID-19 vaccination to its student health clearance requirements beginning in the Fall 2021 semester. The mandate for students means that to be on any UH campus, you must be fully vaccinated against COVID-19 unless exempted for medical and religious reasons. The decision was based on recommendations from the American College Health Association and the University of Hawai‘i’s Health and Well-being Working Group to create a safer campus.

Only after full FDA approval

UH President Lassner said the vaccine requirement will take effect only after at least one of the three COVID-19 vaccines (i.e. Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson), currently authorized for emergency use, has been approved and fully licensed by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA approval is expected by this summer.

Treated just like other health clearance requirements

Students will be able to request exemptions for medical or religious reasons, just as those allowed for other existing health clearance requirements such as TB, MMR, Tdap, Varicella, MCV (for first year students living in on-campus housing), and other strongly recommended vaccinations such as MenB, Polio, Hep A & B, and Human Papillomavirus.

What does this mean for faculty?

UH President Lassner notified UHPA and the two other unions that represent UH employees systemwide about his intention to also extend the mandate to faculty and staff. To date, President Lassner has not submitted any formal proposal to mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for faculty and staff.  Therefore, formal discussions with the UH administration have not yet begun.

UHPA’s public statement on faculty vaccinations

“We recognize the value of COVID-19 vaccinations and their positive impact for Hawaii residents. However, it is important that we move forward carefully to ensure we balance public health and safety with individual choice and an individual’s existing health condition,” said Christian Fern, UHPA Executive Director. “We have had a productive relationship with the UH administration throughout the pandemic, based on mutual trust and respect. This is yet another bridge to cross that we are confident we will be able to resolve together through joint decision making.”

Questions

UHPA recognizes that there will be many questions and concerns raised by faculty about the proposed mandate.  Questions such as who is eligible for exemptions; how will the mandate be managed and enforced; will there be consequences; what can be expected to make faculty feel secure; how will this be integrated into the collective bargaining process, etc.  If you have other relevant questions regarding the proposed COVID-19 vaccination requirement for faculty and staff, please email your questions to the UHPA Negotiations Committee via feedback@uhpa.org.  The UHPA Negotiations Committee plans to compile and categorize faculty questions and concerns in preparation for future discussions with the UH administration.

Editor’s Note on re-opening plans

UHPA is reviewing a letter received on May 20th from Jan Gouveia regarding reopening plans and will respond before the requested May 28th deadline.