UHPA: 50 Years of Strength In Numbers

Next year, UHPA celebrates its 50th anniversary as the exclusive bargaining agent for UH faculty. It’s a huge milestone. While UHPA has evolved over the years, it has and always will be driven by the fact that there is strength in numbers and that delivering competitive wages, better working conditions, protecting academic freedom and governance for faculty must be of foremost importance.

Recognizing The Need to Organize Since 1970

A historical trip back into time shows that when the Hawai‘i State Legislature passed Act 171, and adopted HRS, Chapter 89 (aka Hawaiʻi’s Collective Bargaining law) in 1970, this opened the door to form unions for public sector employees and introduced historic legislation such as exclusive representation and the right of public employees to engage in legal strikes. Initially, there were mixed feelings about unionization among faculty. However, when other bargaining units received a pay increase as a result of their collective-bargaining efforts, UH faculty immediately saw the benefits of banding together as a union in solidarity. There was no longer any ambivalence. Faculty wanted to have one loud, clear voice.

In 1972, there were four competing organizations on a ballot placed before faculty:

  • University of Hawai‘i Faculty Association–UHFA, an alliance of the American Association of University Professors (AAUP) and UH-Manoa Faculty Senate, which was opposed to unionization;
  • Hawai‘i Government Employees Association (HGEA), affiliated with the AFL-CIO;
  • College and University Professional Association (CUPA), affiliated with the Hawai‘i Education Association/National Education Association (HEA/NEA); and
  • Hawai‘i Federation of College Teachers (HFCT), affiliated with the AFL-CIO. 

It was a tight race that required multiple rounds of voting, but in the end, HFCT became the UH faculty’s first exclusive bargaining agent in November 1972.

Faculty Defending Tenure Gave Birth to UHPA

That was not the end. During the subsequent two years, HFCT could not successfully negotiate and ratify a contract. Faculty did not ratify a tentative agreement because they felt it weakened the role of tenure track positions for new hires. After the rejection of the tentative agreement, CUPA members initiated meetings with the UH-Manoa AAUP Chapter members. This led to an agreement to protect the principle of tenure in any collective bargaining agreement negotiated on behalf of faculty. These meetings culminated in the 1974 formation of a coalition organization supported and affiliated with both the national AAUP and NEA. Thereafter, the UHPA was born and has been the exclusive bargaining representative for the University of Hawai‘i  faculty bargaining Unit 7 ever since. By the following year, UHPA, in collaboration with the NEA-AAUP coalition, entered into its first contract for faculty (i.e. 1975-1977).  Since then, UHPA has successfully negotiated a total of seventeen (17) successor collective bargaining agreements on behalf of University of Hawai‘i  faculty and intends to do so with upholding the cornerstone principles of academic tenure and academic governance.

Continuous Evaluation: A Key to Strengthening UHPA

Over the years, UHPA has had to constantly evaluate the value and significance of its power partners in representing and protecting its faculty. In 1992, UHPA discontinued its affiliation with the AAUP, primarily because the relationship was structured so that the local affiliates would support the national organization but receive virtually no services in return.

UHPA then became a direct affiliate of the NEA. UHPA continued to be affiliated with NEA to retain some of the member benefits. However, in 2013, UHPA voted to disaffiliate with NEA and has operated independently for the past decade.

J. N. Musto, UHPA executive director at the time, wrote on disaffiliating from NEA :

“We are uncomfortable taking money from our bargaining unit that cannot be directly tied to our purpose as a public sector union in the state of Hawai‘i. We believe that emerging challenges here at home have a stronger claim on our resources. Retirement and medical benefits are under attack.This is very much a local issue, requiring local expertise and local relationships, and UHPA has proved its effectiveness in the realm of local politics.

As we have seen from recent pop events with our sister union, and NEA state affiliate, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, there is no substitution for local expertise, especially when it comes to collective bargaining. Affiliation with the NEA is not necessary for UHPA to effectively carry out its responsibilities as the exclusive representative of the UH faculty. This is what our mission requires. This is where our attention and resources should be focused.”

Planning for the Future

Over the past decade, UHPA has demonstrated that it can fend for itself and its members. UHPA remains dedicated to the achievement of excellence at the University of Hawai‘i in instruction, research, and service to the community through collective bargaining, legislative advocacy, civic education, and public engagement.

However, there are rising threats to higher education at both the national and local scene. 

Attacks on academic freedom and tenure, funding, intellectual property rights, diversity, and other issues are putting higher education and faculty at greater risk. As democracy is slowly dismantled at the national level, we see state legislators across the country enacting laws that undermine public schools, community colleges, and universities through curriculum bans, eradication of diversity, equity and inclusion programs, attacks on science and public health, funding cuts, attacks on tenure, and voucher and privatization schemes.

Fewer Students Entering Higher Education

While enrollment is up at certain universities and colleges and graduation rates may be high, a significant and growing number of high school students — nearly 40% — do not pursue secondary higher education because it is not affordable, among other reasons. This is another challenging factor.  

It’s Time To Strengthen Our Position

As UHPA prepares to enter its 50th year of representing and servicing faculty, we continue to focus on our mission, assess the landscape, and look at what is looming on the horizon. It is becoming evident that it may be time to reevaluate how we can bolster our strength and add more value for our members, now and into the future. At a time when there has been post-Janus declines in membership in public-sector unions across the country, UHPA is taking a hard look at creative ways to gain strength through numbers and enhance our influence.

If you have suggestions, we are open to your ideas. Please email your thoughts to feedback@uhpa.org. Mahalo.

The Cost of Not Joining UHPA

Guest post by UHPA Member Randy Hirokawa,

In my formative years as a young assistant professor, I admit not being a proponent of faculty unions. I believed in the integrity of universities, and the administrators who ran them. I believed that if you did your work well, you would steadily climb the tenure and promotion ladder and be rewarded appropriately. All of that changed in 1986. Allow me to tell you my story.

I started as an assistant professor

Upon receiving my Ph.D. in 1980, I took my first assistant professor position at a well-known public university on the East Coast (“University X”). At University X, I taught well, published regularly, and served on a variety of committees. I was rewarded with positive pre-tenure reviews in my 1st and 3rd years, and double-digit percentage merit pay increases in each of those three years.

And then was recruited to a university with a top doctoral program

At the start of my 4th year at University X, I was recruited by a well-known public university in the Midwest (“University Y”). The graduate program at University Y was widely regarded as the top doctoral program in my field of study, and some of the top scholars in my field were on their faculty. It was an opportunity too good to pass up so I accepted a faculty position at University Y.

I received lots of lucrative promises in the offer letter

In my offer letter, I was promised a salary that was significantly higher than what I had been making at University X, and along with other perks and benefits, I was told that I would receive four years of credit toward tenure and promotion, thereby allowing me to apply for tenure and promotion in my second year at University Y.

Then we got a new dean

In my first year at University Y, I continued to teach well, publish regularly, and serve on committees. Everything seemed to be going well. Behind the scenes, though, a very important change was happening: The dean of the college who hired me had decided to retire and a new dean was appointed. This new dean had different ideas about how to run the college, and one of those changes was to make the tenure and promotion process more stringent.

Who then broke the terms in my offer letter

In the summer prior to my 2nd year at University Y, with the guidance of my department chair, I prepared my tenure and promotion dossier. All of the required documentation was included. At the start of the Fall Semester, my department chair submitted my dossier to the College in accordance with standard procedures. Shortly thereafter, the department chair received a phone call from the new dean informing him that I could not apply for tenure and promotion because I did not have the minimum three years of service at University that was specified in the College’s Manual of Rules and Procedures. The department chair told the dean that it was true that I had only been at University Y for two years, but that my offer letter specifically stated that I would be allowed to apply for tenure and promotion in my 2nd year. The dean replied that he was under no obligation to comply with any agreements or promises made by the previous dean, especially if they appeared to violate the Manual of Rules and Procedures. The department chair filed a protest with the Provost. The Provost supported the dean. The department chair then appealed to the President. The President supported the Provost. I was not allowed to apply for tenure and promotion that year. Was I wronged? You bet I was. So much so that my department chair resigned from the university in protest.

Stuff happens but without a union, you have no real recourse

The point of this story is that even at the finest universities, mistakes happen; oversights occur; poor judgment takes place; bad decisions are made. Those are organizational realities that exist at all universities. The difference is how they are handled, or dealt with, on non-unionized versus unionized campuses. At University Y, like at most non-unionized campuses, once the appeal process reaches, and is denied, at the Presidential level, there is no further recourse for a faculty member. He/she can file a legal lawsuit against the university, but doing so comes at great cost to the faculty member. In my case, I was strongly advised by my senior colleagues to “bide my time” and not take any legal action. I did as I was told.

With UHPA and our letter of hire, we have the power to enforce written agreements

At unionized campuses, the presence of a faculty union (like UHPA) provides faculty members with a means of appeal that is not available to faculty at a non-unionized campus. If what happened to me had occurred at the University of Hawaii, I would have immediately reported the matter to my union representative, and I’m certain UHPA would have gone to bat for me against the administration. Offer letters are sacrosanct, and we now have contractual protection of them Promises made in those letters are the reason(s) why faculty members decide to join the university. A new dean must abide by the conditions of the offer letter, whether she/he agrees or disagrees with its content. UHPA will make sure that the commitments of the offer letter are honored by the university.

It’s not about what it costs to join. It’s about what it will cost you if you don’t join

When faculty ask me what the benefits are of joining UHPA, I flip the question and tell them, “The question you should be asking is what is the COST of NOT joining UHPA?” I then tell them the story of what happened to me at University Y, and then ask them, if the same thing happened to you here at UH, could you afford NOT to be a member of UHPA? Think about it.