LIHU‘E — Wil Okabe, president of the 13,500-member Hawai‘i State Teachers Association, issued a statement Wednesday in response to the state’s definition of “work to rule.”
On Tuesday, the state told a Board of Education committee that public teacher protests growing across the state may be in violation of their contract.
“We believe that our teachers have a right to free speech under the state constitution and protection under Chapter 89 — the collective bargaining statute — to participate in these activities and HSTA will exercise to the fullest extent of the law to protect its member from prohibitions to do so,” Okabe said. “This argument over what is covered by the contract and what isn’t is a distraction and a deflection from the real issue — the fact that teachers have been disrespected by the governor.”
The state Department of Education told KITV Tuesday that the language in the current contract, in some cases, requires teachers to fulfill assigned duties that fall outside of contracted hours.
For more than a year, Hawai‘i public school teachers have been working without a negotiated contract. According to Tom Perry of the HSTA, this is the first time in the state’s history that a governor has imposed the state’s “last, best and final offer” at a time when teachers felt they were still in the midst of negotiations.
“We don’t want to be in this crisis,” Okabe said Wednesday. “It was not our doing. The governor, during contract negotiations, imposed a 5 percent pay cut to Hawai‘i’s teachers. We have tried to negotiate a fair contract with the governor, but to no avail.”
In late November, teachers from more than 40 schools joined the second “work to rules” protest, expressing their frustration with their current contract status and negotiations for a new contract.
“What the teachers are doing is expressing how frustrated they are that they were put into this position in the first place,” Maya Ross, the crisis communications consultant for HSTA, said. “We’re coming on a two year anniversary of (the teachers) not having a contract.”
Okabe said teachers are taking a variety of actions, including “work to rule,” — or working only the required hours — to call attention to this crisis.
“We believe there is a shared responsibility for student learning and achievement,” he said. “Teachers are on the front lines every day and meeting their responsibility. Students have a responsibility for doing their best work. Parents have a responsibility to provide support. And, the governor has a responsibility to provide the financial support for teachers to help students learn.”
So far, Okabe said Gov. Neil Abercrombie is not living up to that responsibility.
The teachers union and state resumed negotiations Wednesday.
As of press time the meeting was still in progress and no details were available.
• Chris D’Angelo, lifestyle writer, can be reached at 245-3681 (ext. 241) or email@example.com.