We are now heading into our tenth month of dealing with the health, safety, and economic effects COVD-19 has had on our state. It has been a difficult experience. It has upended and traumatically affected everyone. The pandemic has presented both health and economic crises that no one has been able to escape. The new virus has compelled us to think in new ways. We have all had to remain flexible and adaptable and open to new ideas as we venture outside the proverbial box.
During these unprecedented times, we need to rely on our government and our elected officials to help us navigate through this situation and eventually provide the pathway for recovery. We recognize that Governor David Ige has broad powers to protect the health and safety of our citizens, especially during emergencies like COVID-19, but ordering overreaching and arbitrary decisions that have nothing to do with public safety will only exacerbate our situation and make our recovery much more difficult.
The Battle Begins: The Fight Against Furloughs is just the Beginning
There is no doubt that for Hawai‘i to return to a sense of normalcy, we must all do our part, including UH faculty. However, this will not be achieved by resorting to old ways that have proven to fail. That is why UHPA is strongly opposed to the failed past concepts of furloughs and is doing everything in its power to stop Gov. Ige’s ill-timed plan.
At the heart of this dispute lies our future and rights protected and guaranteed by the Hawaii State Constitutional under Article XIII, Section 2, which affords public employees the right to engage in collective bargaining. Gov. Ige’s unilateral implementation of furloughs imposed on Faculty members disregards and violates our current and active collective bargaining agreement that he agreed to for the duration of July 1, 2017 through June 30, 2021.
Allowing such an overreach of political power would open the possibilities for Gov. Ige or any future Governor to unilaterally make possible changes to the Employees’ Retirement System protected under Article XVI, Section 2., assume power and control over the University of Hawai‘i under Article X, Section 6 through diminishing the authority of the Board of Regents, and possibly impact even our Bill of Rights under Article I. The negative consequences of allowing such overreach during emergencies by elected officials are endless and alarming.
UHPA recognizes that there will be difficult times ahead and hard decisions will need to be made, but the law requires the employer to obtain mutual consent from the union regarding wages, hours, working conditions, EUTF contributions, and other topics. Hawaii’s collective bargaining law requires engagement of its employees and mutual consent on mandatory subjects of bargaining such as furloughs, pay cuts, and retrenchment. Ultimately, UHPA membership must vote on these terms through ratification.
UHPA cannot and will not compromise our membership’s constitutional and statutory rights to decide their own personal fate and will not leave it up to Gov. Ige or any other elected official to decide for them.
Flashbacks from the Past
During Gov. Ige’s press conference announcing the furloughs, he said he consulted with Hawai‘i’s past governors, including Gov. Linda Lingle. That raised a red flag and rankled many in the community. Under her leadership, she initiated “Furlough Fridays,” which impacted Hawai‘i’s keiki and their parents. Her furlough plan also curtailed essential services that stalled our state’s recovery efforts during the Great Recession. Many valuable programs were decimated back in 2009, but the effects of those decisions are still being felt today, nearly a decade later.
As some may recall, under the Lingle administration, furloughs were just the beginning of her attempt to downsize government. In a punitive fashion, layoffs and budget cuts soon followed. Gov. Ige seems to be following the same playbook, already alluding to the need to look at layoffs. We should forget the naïve notion that UH faculty should be willing to do our part by rolling over and accepting furloughs as the solution to our state’s budget challenges. In addition, neither Gov. Ige nor the UH has ever figured out how to impose a furlough plan on Faculty without it just becoming a straight pay cut due to how unique the work Faculty members perform.
Do the Math
According to Gov. Ige, our state is projected to have a $1.4 billion shortfall over each of the next four years. Gov. Ige stated that the furloughs would contribute $300 million each year to be used to pay back a $750 million dollar loan for money he borrowed. Gov Ige plans to keep the furloughs on-going for the next four (4) years which will eventually make public employees contribute an additional $450 million during this time frame.
Secondly, it’s obvious furloughs alone will not fix the problem. What will be next? The worst is yet to come and the battle is just beginning. Furloughs open the door to more edicts that violate our rights protected by the collective bargaining process and our state constitution. As history has shown, give governors an inch, and they will take a mile —wielding their emergency powers as they see fit.
Collaboration is Key
Taking legal action against the governor is not our preference; however, UHPA as well as the other public-sector unions need to stop his furlough plans based on the reasons cited above. We believe it’s time for everyone to work together and think strategically to move forward.
Throughout the pandemic, the need to collaborate and get through this together has emerged as the new mantra. Unfortunately, we don’t see Gov. Ige leading by example. Instead of developing innovative solutions, we instead see Gov. Ige reverting back to past actions that have been proven to fail.