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.