KAHULUI - About 150 red T-shirt-clad Maui public school teachers joined others across the state Tuesday to protest what they say is the governor's inaccurate, unfair and disrespectful portrayal of them over their unresolved contract negotiations.
"We just wanted to do something to unite all our teachers," said Hawaii State Teachers Association Maui Chapter President Lester Kunimitsu as he stood with his fellow teachers along Kaahumanu Avenue. "I don't think the public understands we never had a negotiated contract. It was imposed on us in July 2011, and we just showed up to work and it was in our boxes."
Gov. Neil Abercrombie has said that he's engaged in protracted negotiations with the HSTA in line with compromises made by other state employees in light of the state's financial deficit. According to published reports, the governor and schools Superintendent Kathryn Matayoshi, with the approval of the state Board of Education, said they had to impose the "last, best and final offer" to achieve 5 percent labor savings and put changes in place before the new school year began in 2011.
Waihee Elementary School 3rd-grade teacher Jocelyn Tengan holds a sign along with other teachers Tuesday. The teachers gathered to protest Gov. Neil Abercrombie’s negotiations with the Hawaii State Teachers Association and their unresolved contract negotiations with the state, protesters said. Maui teachers wave signs along Kaahumanu Avenue in Kahului on Tuesday.
The Maui News / MATTHEW THAYER photo
The contract called for pay reductions and increased contributions to health care premiums.
The forced-upon contract is especially unfair to bright, young teachers, who are leaving the state en masse now, said Ed Garcia, an HTSA board member and intermediate school counselor. That hurts kids and the system's future.
"We are here to express all we want is a decent wage and respect," Garcia said.
"It's demeaning," said Judy Locke, a veteran 3rd-grade teacher. "It's also a huge distraction."
After the governor imposed the contract on the teachers, the HSTA filed a complaint with the Hawaii Labor Relations Board and a 10-month hearing was held. A decision is pending.
As the labor board process continued, HSTA and the state came to a tentative agreement in January on a six-year contract. However, the teachers voted down the proposal.
A revote was held in May, and the tentative agreement was ratified, but the governor said at the time that the agreement was no longer valid.
The HSTA and the state entered nonbinding mediation in August, but the process ended in early October without an agreement.
Garcia said the state won't even maintain the status quo.
"It was all take, take, take," Garcia said.
* Chris Hamilton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.