Senators Working Hard To Undo The Success We’ve Achieved

Autonomy Revisited:
Today’s Senate Has Strayed Off the Path Established 30 Years Ago

As Hawaii’s legislative session reaches the halfway mark and bills cross over between the House and Senate, it’s a good time to reflect on what has been transpiring to date. In the heat of the day-to-day, rough-and-tumble battles that occur with the various legislative committees, we often do not have the luxury to take a deeper, historical look at how the decisions and actions of certain legislators have deviated from their predecessors.

Senators Breaking What Doesn’t Need Fixing

The recurring theme in the Senate this year has been meddlesome over-reach, an attempt to squash the autonomy of the University of Hawai‘i. These are all done in the name of “revamping, upgrading and renewing” our state’s public higher education system — descriptions some senators use to justify fixing what does not need to be fixed. There are no innocent bystanders in the Senate; many are complicit by tacitly going along with the prevailing notions of the moment.

There Was a Time They Actually Cared About Our Future

The mindset and tenor of the Senate today diverges from how the Senate has operated in the past. In the early to mid-1990s, in the midst of the Great Recession, Gov. Ben Cayetano, the Senate and the House convened the Hawaii Economic Revitalization Task Force (ERTF) to address the state’s economic condition. These elected officials had conviction, principles and a vision, and worked toward solutions by looking after the best interests of the state.

Where An Independent UH Was A Cornerstone of Economic Vitality

The ERTF made the determination that “if” the University of Hawai‘i could be set free of political control, it could be an economic engine for the state. It was a completely new and bold concept, but it revealed that government leaders at that time were much more forward-thinking — a sharp contrast to the command – control – dictate – imposition leadership style of certain state senators today.

UH Autonomy: A New Concept

The key proposals that emerged from the ERTF were game-changers. There was a desire to position the University of Hawai‘i as the preeminent institution in the world to help drive the local economy; and to restructure it into a quasi-public corporation with independent accountability. Government leaders believed this additional autonomy would allow the University of Hawai‘i to set its own priorities, drive it’s own vision and goals, and to own and manage lands, funds and resources without interference. The result would be “world-class” standing in key areas and an increase in the proportion of private funding.

Even Cayetano Believed a Freed UH Would Be Good for Hawaii

The notion of autonomy for the University of Hawai‘i gained more momentum and in his State of the State speech on Jan. 26, 1998, Gov. Cayetano said:

“We propose to make the University of Hawai‘i a quasi-public institution, virtually a fourth branch of government. We want the university to become more entrepreneurial, to become a leading contributor to our economy, but most of all, we want the university to have the freedom to become one of the great universities of the Pacific.”

We Used to Be The Most Micro-Managed University 

John Radcliffe, who was serving as UHPA’s acting executive director while J. N. Musto was on sabbatical, commissioned a study on the role of universities in economic development. The results showed that virtually every surveyed state across the nation empowers its higher education system with a significant degree of fiscal and policy autonomy. In fact, no surveyed state had consigned less actual authority to its higher education governance authority than the State of Hawai‘i. Where universities are not already constitutionally self-directing, the study showed the norm is to specify large degrees of university fiscal self-governance, and to empower university-private sector collaboration.

These former and past legislators fully supported the restructuring of the University of Hawai‘i for improved economic performance. Bills to promote autonomy were introduced in 1997 and in the 1998 legislature, there were at least three major “autonomy bills” in circulation. 

But Then Act 115 Enshrined Autonomy in Law

HB 2560 was eventually passed with bi-partisan support from both the House and Senate. The positive support showed that the legislature agreed with the economic revitalization task force’s determination that the devolution of power to the University of Hawai‘i will enhance the university’s status as a preeminent institution of higher learning, and enable the university to fulfill its constitutional responsibilities and contribute significantly to economic revitalization. This was signed into law in June and became Act 115.

Although this was a major step forward, the work was not yet over. None of the bills proposed amendments to the selection of the Board of Regents, a process  that had been an obstacle to autonomy. 

And Created The Candidate Advisory Council For a Better BOR

Autonomy could only be fully realized if the Board of Regents looked after the interests of the UH, and were not political sycophants making decisions to return favors to others. John Radcliffe was key to introducing the concept of a candidate advisory council to help the UH realize true autonomy.

A constitutional amendment was proposed to the public via SB1256 (2005), and was enacted by Hawai‘i voters at the election in 2006.  It amended Art. X § 6 (now HRS § 304A-104 and 104.6) that allows for “pools of qualified candidates presented to the governor by the candidate advisory council…”

This process helped to vet those recommended to serve on the Board of Regents who may not know much about higher education and to prevent the appointments of those who are specifically tapped because of their hostility to or ignorance of higher education. 

Today, We Have the Stats to Show It’s Working

We as locals born and raised here in these islands are taught from a young age that in order to understand the need for changes in any aspect of oneʻs life, you must first understand how you arrived at the current state of being.  If the current senators seeking to “revamp, upgrade and renew” the stateʻs public higher education system did their homework, and took the time to understand the historical background and reasons behind the transformative transition taken three decades ago, they would better understand the reasoning why the University has excelled during the pandemic.  As faculty, you have awarded roughly 21,000 degrees, diplomas, and certificates to the future leaders of our state.  In addition, the UH System saw an increase in enrollment, bucking the national trends. This week, Mānoa was accredited for the next 10 years by WASC.  WASC has validated the work that all of you have  been doing to “revamp, upgrade, and renew.” Which begs the question:  whereʻs the need NOW to “revamp, upgrade, and renew” the University?

Yet Our Senators Want A Return To A Failed Model of the Past

In economically challenging times, lawmakers of the past proposed innovative solutions that reflected their bold, transcendent worldviews. Today’s lawmakers have abandoned the leadership vision and insights of the past, and in their myopic quest for power, bring the entire University of Hawai‘i system down and prevent the university from realizing its fullest potential as an economic engine for our state.  We can either watch this epic and historic destruction occur before our eyes or take a stand to question and challenge the movement today. 

UHPA responds to Gov. Ige calling off furloughs

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

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


Christian Fern
Executive Director
University of Hawai‘i Professional Assembly

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.

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)

Your voice made the difference at Thurday’s BOR meeting

Our Collaborative Effort Made a Difference: BOR Votes to Defer Premature Resolution

At yesterday’s July 16th  Board of Regents meeting, UHPA and UH faculty successfully sent a strong message to Regent Chair Benjamin Kudo that struck a chord with the Regents.  

Through the collaborative efforts of UHPA, HGEA, Academic Labor United, and UH faculty and students, we made Chair Kudo stop in his tracks. We collectively presented a strong, unified voice to defend the University and forestall a requirement by the UH Board of Regents for the UH administration to develop a short-term plan of action to address the financial impact of COVID-19 by next month — without the benefit of input from UHPA and the faculty.

A Thousand Individuals, One Strong Voice

Nearly a thousand individuals submitted testimony in opposition to UH Board of Regents Chair Benjamin Kudo’s ill-conceived resolution and proposed letter to Gov. David Ige. Fortunately, the other Board of Regents listened to the concerns raised by faculty and others, and realized the resolution was premature and conceived in a vacuum. 

Vote Defers Resolution; Withdraws Letter to the Governor

The result of mobilizing quickly paid off. The Board of Regents unanimously voted to defer Resolution 20-03 and to withdraw Chair Kudo’s letter to the Governor, which sought to defer the negotiated pay raises of faculty and other public-sector union members  It was an important achievement for all of us. 

Collective Bargaining 101

The live-streamed meeting exposed Chair Kudo’s deficient understanding of collective bargaining and the role of the Board of Regents as an employer in the legal process of reaching an agreement. 

All of the written and oral testimonials enlightened the Regents about their legal obligation to comply with collective bargaining agreements. They publicly acknowledged faculty for stepping forward to raise their concerns and recognized the importance of faculty input on the resolution. UHPA and faculty will now have the opportunity to work with the Board of Regents to work on a revised resolution for consideration next month.

Continuing the Momentum

We are off to a good start, but this is by no means the end of this battle. It has become painfully clearer what we are up against. We must contend with a group that does not play by the rules because they do not know the rules. We must remain vigilant and cannot let our guard down.

Mahalo again for everyone’s support, especially to Randy Perreira, Executive Director of HGEA and his members throughout the UH system, Academic Labor United, and the many UH students and community members for coming together and providing a unified voice to support and defend our University.  We appreciate everyone’s kōkua!

UH Key to Hawaii’s economic recovery

Editor’s note: the below opinion piece by UHPA Executive Director Christian Fern appeared in the April 26, 2020 Honolulu Star Advertiser

Hawaii is caught between a rock and hard place. Our state constitution requires us to have a balanced budget, with a plan that shows anticipated revenue to cover projected expenditures. Although we’ve had budget deficits in the past, as a state we have generally been good about not spending more than what we generate.

Aggressive strategies worldwide to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 have been necessary, but it has come at a cost. State government officials project an estimated $1.5 billion drop in state tax revenue. It’s painfully clear difficult decisions must be made.

Although the pandemic has created unprecedented challenges, this is not our first encounter with an economic downturn in our state. We can learn from our experiences from the Great Recession that started in 2009. Good decisions helped to position us for better recovery, but bad decisions continue to haunt us and we are still paying for those.

Now is the time to make prudent, collaborative decisions to accelerate our economic recovery and plan the future we want for Hawai‘i.

Yet, Gov. David Ige unilaterally proposed a 20% pay cut for public employees. To many in the public sector, the pay cuts seemed to be a knee-jerk reaction that lacked careful thought and input. To make this more palatable, he later offered to cut his own pay and that of his cabinet team members, and then back-pedaled by offering to “look at all options” to balance the budget.

Those words offered a glimmer of hope that he is not focused only on cutting public employees’ pay. 

 During the Great Recession, we saw a significant decline in visitors to Hawaii and reduced spending by those visitors. We also saw a substantial loss of jobs in tourism, transportation, construction, retail and service industries, with a significant rise in unemployment rates. We also saw wages decline.

In the midst of those dismal trends, there was a bright spot. We saw enrollment in the University of Hawai‘i increase by nearly 20% at the four-year campuses and nearly 30% at the community colleges. 

Counterintuitively, state general funds to support the UH dropped by about 30% per student during that time. The budget cuts forced the university to raise tuition rates, placing a burden on families already struggling to send their kids to college.  We should not make the same mistake this time around and instead invest in Hawaii’s people appropriately. The University system must be ready and supported to offer relevant, quality training to its residents to restart the economy. A hiring freeze or staff reductions would only increase class sizes or cut entire classes.

Universities generally have countercyclical experiences during downturns in contrast to other sectors of the economy. Enrollment soars during downturns because while many are looking for a job, they return to the UH to learn new skills to become more job-ready and attractive candidates to employers. Faculty played a key role in preparing the workforce for the state’s recovery efforts in 2009, and need to continue to be on the frontlines to support our local economy. If Hawai‘i is to reduce its dependency on tourism, education through the UH is key to creating new opportunities for economic diversification and resilience. 

Academic research led by UH faculty is another economic engine for the state that is often overlooked. The expertise and reputation of the faculty are able to attract millions of dollars in funding for research, which also creates jobs for graduate students and support staff. 

When we receive the green light to venture out of our homes again, we know the world will be different from when we left it just about a month ago. We’ll need to be ready to hit the ground running. We cannot afford to make hasty decisions that create more harm than good, now and for our future.

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

By Lynne Wilkens, UHPA President

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Time to Restore Fairness to Public-Sector Employees

(Note: this op-ed originally appeared in the Star Advertiser on 7/6/2017 “Bill needed to protect UH faculty from abuse by employer“)

University of Hawaii faculty members do not wake up each morning thinking about how they can purposely give their students a bad learning experience or intentionally misuse research funds that have been entrusted to them. But the state of Hawaii and UH administrators, who collectively make up the employers of the faculty, seem to believe this.

Even our state’s chief executive, Gov. David Ige, is behind this. That’s why he announced Senate Bill 410 is one of the legislative bills he intends to veto by the July 11 deadline. In reality, the intention of this bill is simply to underscore the value of collective bargaining in Hawaii and to strengthen relationships in the workplace.

During this past legislative session, James Nishimoto, chief negotiator of the Governor’s Office of Collective Bargaining, stirred the pot by stating management would lose control of its employees. In his written testimony against SB 410, he reveals his unfounded fears: “ … the amendatory language might be interpreted by employees as empowering them to refuse to perform assigned duties and responsibilities unless such duties have been mutually agreed to as a term and condition of employment … ”

This is the kind of condescending degradation UH faculty members have to endure. All we ask for is mutual respect, good-faith bargaining, and employers to demonstrate integrity by honoring terms and conditions they have promised. Chapter 89 of the Hawaii Revised Statutes was put into effect nearly 40 years ago to prevent abuse of power by government employers.

SB 410 is intended to keep employers accountable and to keep Hawaii from reverting back to an era in which employee abuse was rampant and acceptable.

Over the years, Hawaii has seen increased attempts by employers attempting to find loopholes in Chapter 89. They undermine both the spirit and letter of the law by redefining terms to their advantage. The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) has had to defend a number of faculty in hearings before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board and through costly litigation.

Many may not realize the challenges faculty members face. One professor gave up his flourishing research career at a mainland university when he was recruited to start a similar medical research program at UH-Manoa. He was told in writing he would have the equipment and other resources for his research in Hawaii.

After the professor and family relocated to the islands, a new UH administrator whimsically changed her mind and told this professor he would not get his equipment after all. UH administrators backed this decision, claiming the letter of hire the professor received was not covered by the collective bargaining process, so the promise made to him was not binding.

These are insulting, career-disrupting actions, and detract from our core purpose as faculty: instructing students and conducting groundbreaking research to benefit our state.

UH administrators are seemingly authorized to make up their own rules with immunity. They may get a slap on the hands before being transferred to another high-paying position. UH faculty members do not have that kind of luxury, nor do we ask for that. That is why SB 410 is so critical. We hope Gov. David Ige upholds the decision by legislators to support SB 410 so that UH faculty can look forward to waking up each morning and going to work in a fair environment.

SB 410 Designed to Raise the Bar of Accountability

By UHPA bargaining team: UHPA President Lynne Wilkens, UHPA Bargaining Team Chair Karla Hayashi, Amy Nishimura, Glenn Teves and Matthew Tuthill

Who’s accountable?

When the University of Hawai‘i (UH) leadership gets itself in deep kimchee and manages to grab the headlines, alumni and others cringe. It’s the same pattern: legislators start to ask questions and restrict funding that unfortunately affects programs, faculty and, most importantly, students and research that benefits our state.

Do we cry afoul? No. Does anyone demand heads roll? No. There is no accountability. Instead the issues are quietly swept under the rug. UH administrators are deftly shifted to another comparable position and salary within the UH system. The back-up plan often is to hire yet another chancellor to further inflate the University of Hawaii’s administrative payroll.

Has anyone wondered how UH administrators fare as employers?

The UH administrators that have difficulty managing programs and facilities are the same ones who make up their own rules to govern faculty. These are the faculty that teach our students and collectively bring in more than $350 million in non-state funding to conduct research each year.

There’s always another side to the story. SB 410 has a distinct purpose. It was designed to raise the bar of accountability on employers and improve relationships in the workplace. Framing SB 410 as an uprising of unions is a way to divert attention away from these facts.

For University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA), we know there are many in the community who empathize with the dilemma we face. Although we have joined our brothers and sisters in the other public-sector unions, most legislators and others are familiar with the challenges we face on the 10 UH campuses statewide.

While it easy to promote fear-mongering that SB 410 will somehow “tip the balance” in favor of unions and give them unprecedented power that will “interfere” with relationships between management and employees, we urge those in the Governor’s office to think carefully and do their homework.

We can point to numerous cases of erosion of legitimate faculty rights.

A recent case involved a faculty renowned for his breakthrough medical research, who was recruited from another university with the promise of certain technical equipment to build a similar program at the University of Hawaii. This was spelled out in his letter of hire. After relocating and moving his family here, the UH changed its mind and argued a letter of hire was not included in the collective bargaining process. In other words, what was promised in the letter to him didn’t count. Talk about hair-raising. Insane. Not acceptable. It’s time to put aloha back in the workplace.

Defend mediocrity or improve higher education?

Who Governor David Ige hires, and who he chooses to discipline is strictly his prerogative. It is not our place to tell him how to run his state departments. However, if he vetoes SB 410, it will be a clear indication he defends mediocrity in our state — hardly the quality we want in a leader. SB 410 will allow UHPA faculty to continue to provide quality higher education, research, and community service to the people of Hawai‘i.