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.