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.

Deferring Payroll Tax Obligation

On August 8, 2020, President Trump directed the Secretary of the Treasury to defer the withholding and payment of the employee portion of social security taxes from September 1 to December 31, 2020. The Internal Revenue Service (IRS) confirmed on September 3, 2020 the tax deferral is optional and employers are not required to participate.

The directive does not eliminate the tax liability for employees. The IRS advised on August 28 that employers that choose to participate should withhold the deferred taxes from employees pay from January 1 to April 30, 2021 (next year), in addition to normal withholdings.

After a detailed evaluation and legal review, the State of Hawaii will not be participating and will continue standard tax withholding practices for our employees until such a time that conditions warrant reevaluation.

Political Action Fund Objection

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) has an active Political Endorsement Committee that has participated in state & federal elections through political endorsements, contributions to candidates and independent expenditures on behalf of our endorsed candidates. The UHPA Board of Directors has taken action to allocate from the dues of all UHPA Active members an amount of $5.00 a month to be placed in a Political Action Fund. The Fund will be subject to the accounting requirements and used for purposes consistent with the Hawaii State Election and Federal Election laws.

Our policy allows Active members of UHPA to object to the $5.00 per month allocation to the Political Action Fund. This will not lower their total dues, but it will not add to the total amount of funds allocated for partisan political purposes with respect to candidate endorsements and contributions. If an Active member chooses to object to this funding, they will not be allowed to vote on any recommendation for candidate endorsements made by the Board of Directors.

The request to withhold funding from the Political Action account must be made each year.  If you do not wish to contribute to the “candidate endorsement” fund for fiscal year 2020-2021, then you must sign, date, and return an UHPA Allocation Objection Form by November 2, 2020.

The UHPA Board of Directors has taken this action in response to the strong feelings held by some members that the union should not participate in making candidate endorsements or political contributions. However, we believe it is essential for a public sector union to maintain a political presence since the fundamental work of our bargaining with the State of Hawaii is ultimately subject to legislative approval.

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)

John Radcliffe, A Fighter to the Very End

John Radcliffe, our friend and staunch advocate of University of Hawai‘i faculty, died on Tuesday, August 11. With the same fierce determination, courage, and tenacity to protect and defend the rights of faculty, he fought a six-year battle with cancer to the very end. He was 78 years old.

John served as associate executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) for 16 years, working with his long-time friend JN Musto, who was executive director at the time. John served from September 1991 to January 2007, and then served as a lobbyist on behalf of UHPA until June 2016.

“We have lost someone who had a deep understanding of people and politics,” said Christian Fern, UHPA’s executive director. “He worked relentlessly to advocate for fairness and had strong relationships based on years of mutual respect and trust. He was the consummate networker and was able to remember people’s names and took the time to learn about them. This made him warmly welcomed with all those he encountered.”

“His contributions endure today. He helped secure the rights and freedom faculty and others enjoy today and leaves behind an excellent model of caring for us to emulate,” Christian said.

John believed in the power of solidarity and collective bargaining. Before he joined UHPA, John was the executive director of the Hawaii State Teachers Association for 13 years. He came to Hawaii in 1975 from Virginia to lead HSTA and immediately hit the ground running to address the substandard working conditions for teachers. He was driven by his own experiences as he had been a teacher himself earlier in his career.

In recent years, John became a familiar face and spokesperson for Hawaii’s Our Care, Our Choice Act. After nearly 20 years of controversial debate and grassroots mobilization in the community, the Hawaii State Legislature passed bills for medical aid-in-dying, which was signed into law by Gov. David Ige in 2018 to be effective in January 2019. John was a beneficiary of this work, choosing to end his life on a high note with a prescription at his home this week.  

John leaves behind a legacy of feats, accomplishments, and acts that few can emulate, but from which tens of thousands will continue to benefit for decades to come.

Mahalo to John for all his outstanding contributions! We will miss you, but your irrepressible triumphant spirit will always be with us.

The current status of your 1.2% pay increase

As a part of the negotiated and agreed to four (4) year Unit 7 collective bargaining agreement for the duration July 1, 2017 – June 30, 2021, UHPA had a reopener to negotiate an additional pay increase effective January 2, 2020 and January 1, 2021, as outlined in Article XXX, Duration of the 2017-2021 Unit 7 UHPA-BOR Agreement, along with the negotiated pay increases of 2% for July 1, 2019 and July 1, 2020.  The 1.2% was a floor, with the potential of a higher increase based upon the negotiated average step increases other Bargaining Units obtained.

Your 2% raise is going into effect

For 11 month faculty members, the 2% pay increase was incorporated into your July 20, 2020 paychecks.  For 9 month faculty, the 2% pay increase will be incorporated into your August 20, 2020 paychecks.  

Your 1.2% raise has been agreed to

In May, 2020, UHPA reached an agreement with the UH and the State to formally adopt and incorporate the 1.2% pay increase into Article XXI, Salaries of the 2017-2021 Unit 7 UHPA-BOR Agreement.  SB 785 Relating to Collective Bargaining, which was funded  by the Legislature and enrolled to the Governor on June 26, 2020, incorporated the retroactive pay increase for faculty members of 1.2% effective January 2, 2020, as well as the 1.2% increase effective January 1, 2021.

The bill is currently sitting on the Governorʻs desk.

He has until August 31, 2020 to issue his intent to veto the bill.  If he does not submit the intent to veto, the bill will automatically become law on September 15, 2020 with or without his signature.  If he does veto the bill, the Legislature could return in a special session and override the Governor’s veto.  

We’re waiting for his signature now

We have no knowledge of whether the Governor intends to veto SB 785 which funds the 1.2% pay increase that was agreed to back in 2017 and which the Governor, the UH President, and the BOR fully supported and agreed to.  We believe that the Governor will sign the bill and then allocate to the UH the appropriate funds to pay for this 1.2% pay increase retroactive to January 2, 2020 and another 1.2% increase on January 1, 2021.  However, it’s in the Governor’s hands now and he has until August 31, 2020 to show his colors.  Once funding is allocated to UH, we plan to work with the UH to get an estimated time frame upon when faculty members could expect to receive the 1.2% retroactive pay increase back to January 2, 2020.  Conversely, if the Governor unexpectedly vetoes SB 785, UHPA will immediately notify faculty members of what the next steps will be to address the Governor’s surprised actions.

UHPA Announces 2020 Political Endorsements

UHPA’s Political Endorsements for 2020 have been published on our Candidate Endorsements page and we urge all UHPA members to support the relevant candidate in your districts.

Why you should support these candidates

UHPA has a strong and consistent presence in the State Capitol in the pursuit of issues important to our faculty and defense of the UHPA-BOR Collective Bargaining Agreement. The endorsed candidates are either friends of UHPA or for those not yet holding office, give us the confidence that they will be friends.  Your support of these endorsed candidates will strengthen UHPA’s position in all legislative matters.

Our endorsement process

The new Political Endorsement Committee met at the close of the Legislative Session to begin preparing for the second round of legislative endorsements. They began by establishing a questionnaire (member only access) that would be sent to all candidates requesting UHPA’s endorsement.  

Questions we asked

An email subsequently went out to all candidates who requested an endorsement with the questionnaire attached.  A followup email was sent to establish interview dates and times to be held during the week of July 13.  The candidates had approximately two weeks to review the questionnaire prior to the interview process. 

Interviews we held

The PEC deliberated on contested districts in which they interviewed more than one candidate for that district.  The PEC took every aspect of the interview into consideration prior to their decision.   It is important to note that UHPA has not always participated in every campaign in every House or Senate District throughout the years.

HomeStreet Bank provides resources for members struggling financially

Our partners at Homestreet just sent us an email the other day that we hope has utility for our members that need help during these trying times:

Seeing that Hawaii is experiencing high unemployment due to Covid-19, we thought you may like to have some resources available in the event you have members, or their family members, in need of financial help.

These services are offered at no cost to your members, they extend to family members and are offered by phone or on-line so they are easily and safely accessible.

As part of the Inside Edge Financial Wellness Program, there are participating partners and resources available to help members and their family members who may be dealing with debt issues

Not a member yet? Join now via this instant membership online form.

Are you already a member but can’t access the content? Click here to troubleshoot or just call our office.

UHPA Endorses Derek Turbin, House District 20

UHPA is pleased to endorse Derek Turbin for House District 20 previously held by Representative Calvin Say.   The seat is now vacant and there are four candidates vying to represent House District 20.  UHPA PEC had an opportunity to interview three of the four and narrowed from four down to two, Derek was the PEC choice! He is actively involved in the community; striving to know the issues.  The PEC also felt he understood the issue confronting UH faculty and  would be able to work well with others in the legislature in advancing the work that needs to be accomplished.

Tenure and Promotions: UHPA’s Supporting Role

Congratulations to all University of Hawai‘i faculty who have recently been tenured or have been promoted!

UHPA recognizes your hard work and diligence. Your commitment to academic excellence is admirable and you deserve to celebrate this important milestone in your professional career.

It’s Based on Your Contract

The success of these faculty is based on the foundation established by UHPA in the UHPA-BOR Agreement. It’s important to point out that this is not a state statute. Unlike many other states, tenure is only possible because of the UHPA-BOR Agreement, not statute. The UHPA Negotiating Team makes sure that policies and procedures for tenure, promotion and contract renewal evaluations and recommendations are always included in the faculty contracts. View an entire section of the contract dedicated to this subject.

Did You Know…

Here are some other safeguards in the faculty contract to ensure you receive a fair assessment when you are being considered for tenure or a promotion.

  • The majority of bargaining unit faculty members must approve the policies and procedures of each respective department or division within the University of Hawai`i. UHPA must also approve any amendments.
  •  The written procedures for a department or division must include a secret ballot for final votes on faculty members being considered for tenure or contract renewal, and the faculty member who is voting must be a tenured Bargaining Unit 07 member.

Share This with Your Colleagues

Others in your department or division may not be aware of the role UHPA plays in establishing the framework for tenure and promotion. Please share this with information with them, and if they are interested in becoming a UHPA member to support themselves and fellow faculty, please direct them to this instant online membership form.

View the list of faculty who have been tenured or promoted.