Governor Ige warns of potential furloughs and pay cuts

Any salary reductions require bargaining

Yesterday afternoon, Governor David Ige met with the leaders of Hawaii’s six public worker unions, including the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.

Because of the pandemic, Governor Ige said the state expects to be billions of dollars in deficit and that additional steps will be necessary to balance the budget.

We want to be absolutely clear and transparent. Governor Ige has not put forward any formal proposal to UHPA nor any of the other unions to initiate mid-term bargaining on these additional steps and it is not clear what the additional steps would entail. However, in addition to imposing further cuts to state departments, Governor Ige has put forward the possibility of furloughs twice a month to achieve a 9.23% salary cut for all state employees over a four-year period. Governor Ige wants those furloughs and cuts to take effect Dec. 1 of this year and use the monies saved to offset the budgetary shortfall on the backs of public employees.

Each bargaining unit has a set of unique circumstances and needs that would require bargaining and mutual consent between the parties to implement. Unilateral implementation would violate our current Unit 7 collective bargaining agreement, as well as our collective bargaining law, so terms and conditions for any reductions in pay or impact on working conditions for our bargaining unit members for this fiscal year would require negotiations with UHPA. 

In the meantime, UHPA will stand strong and in solidarity with the other public-sector unions.

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.

It’s time for UH Manoa to Honor their Commitments to Faculty Members. UHPA Prohibited Practice Filed

On December 21, UHPA filed a prohibited practice charge with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board charging Natural Science Interim Dean Kumashiro with unilaterally and improperly canceling agreements contained within letters of hire and supplemental terms of service for department chairs. This is an important case to protect the rights of faculty in advancing the ability of UHPA to bargain and enforce letters of hire and the conditions set forth within.

A promise broken

In the case of Dr. Kevin Bennett, UH Manoa Biology, his letter of hire provided for a UH purchase of an MRI. Approval to purchase was granted as was the appropriate facility construction for the equipment. Within a few weeks of being appointed, Interim Dean Kumashiro notified Dr. Bennett that she would not allow the purchase of the equipment. While she had the funds, they would be used for other projects. This has significantly impacted the ability of Dr. Bennett to continue his academic work and research.

Questionable removal of dept chair

Dr. Kathleen Cole was department chair of the Biology Department. She was removed by Interim Dean Kumashiro which UHPA believes was due to her advocacy for Dr. Bennett along with expressing Biology faculty and student needs regarding a new facility on the Manoa campus–Snyder Prime. Upon her removal as department chair, a supplemental agreement, executed in 2014 for research support while department chair, was retracted leaving three graduate students and Dr. Cole without the funding to continue her academic work and research.

Senator Schatz Addresses Bias in Letter to NASA

In a memo issued in March 2013, NASA grant-awarded faculty were surprised to see Hawai’i classified with “foreign destinations” for the purposes of travel approval. Despite a correction issued a year later in March 2014,  lower-level NASA officials continued to restrict approval, asserting to Hawai’i faculty that their travel monies were non-domestic. After hearing from concerned faculty, Senator Schatz wrote to NASA Administrators in an effort to bring awareness to the difficulties which state researchers frequently face; namely, that it can be challenging to overcome stereotypes about Hawai’i in efforts to maximize research opportunities in what happens to also be a popular tourist destination.

In a response dated August 18th, Chief Financial Officer, David Radzanowski clarified the proper procedures and identified points of contact who would be able to assist grantees in remedying the misconception. Now faculty should be able to acquire approval without undue burden. Mahalo Senator Schatz.

Read the Correspondence Between Senator Schatz and NASA Officials

Could the University of Hawaii’s latest move, firing men’s basketball head coach Gib Arnold, cost the school more in the long run?

UH will pay Arnold $344,000 for the final year of his contract, which was set to expire in June 2015. He will remain officially employed until Jan. 26, but will not be coaching.

J.N. Musto, executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, is familiar with contracts and how they and the university work. He says it’s a tragedy for the university to go through another personnel situation.

Read the rest of the article at “Recent payouts, losses cost UH nearly $1.8 million” KHON news.

Proposed Elimination of Federal Earmarks Could Adversely Impact UH Programs

Hawaii has been given the dubious distinction of being the #1 state in the nation with the largest total dollar value of frivolous projects funded by the federal government. But consider the source: the Citizens Against Government Waste (CAGW), a 503c non-profit conservative organization, funded by private and corporate interests that are pro-business and anti-government regulation.

The organization, founded in 1984 by J. Peter Grace and Jack Anderson, is on a crusade to eliminate what it considers waste, mismanagement, and inefficiency in the federal government. While it is not a new organization, it has steadily been drawn into the limelight as conservatives have gained Congressional clout. The practice of federal earmarks, which guarantees federal funds for specific recipients or projects, has become a hot topic in Congress these days. The nonprofit has engaged in lobbying on behalf of various interests including the tobacco industry and Microsoft’s battle over open source software.

According to data in CAGW’s latest “Pig Report,” more than $326 million was appropriated to Hawaii for unnecessary, “pork barrel” projects in 2009. It’s a big slap in the face when you consider that these are actually vital programs for our state. Federally funded projects are likely to be front and center in the anticipated Congressional budget battle.  UHPA will continue to monitor these issues through the Hawaii Congressional Delegation and the National Education Association’s federal lobbying activity.

For a complete list of what is under attack at the UH system, including community colleges, go to www.cagw.org to view the Pig Reports by state.

DEPENDENT SCHOLARSHIP PROGRAM

Under Article III of the 2009-2015 UH faculty contract, a Dependent Scholarship Program was effective with the 2010-2011 academic year. The scholarship fund was for $250,000 and was awarded on a first-come, first-served basis until funds were exhausted. An email sent to all Chancellors on February 22, 2012 advises them that funds have been exhausted and this program to offer funding for dependent students of faculty members has ended.