Hawaii Teachers Union Looking at Legal Options Over Contract Dispute

Katherine Poythress/Civil Beat

It's been six weeks since Hawaii teachers voted to accept the contract offer they'd rejected in January. But the union and state are still no closer to striking a deal.

In fact, Hawaii State Teachers Association President Wil Okabe told teachers last week that the union is exploring legal means to enforce the January contract agreement the state considers off the table, according to internal documents.

Okabe told Civil Beat last week that the union is still "waiting for the governor to respond to our ratified contract."

Gov. Neil Abercrombie's spokeswoman, Donalyn Dela Cruz, said the state has informed HSTA that "we want to negotiate the 2013-2015 contract." There are no negotiation dates set at this time, she added.

Okabe sent the governor a letter July 6 giving the state 14 days to respond to a May 30 memorandum of understanding. He continues to insist that the re-vote in May constituted a ratification of the tentative agreement the union had reached in January.

There were stutter-step negotiations leading up to the re-vote based on HSTA's Feb. 28 proposal and the state's March 19 settlement offer. But Abercrombie has said the January contract offer teachers approved no longer has legal standing.

Former HSTA Executive Director Joan Husted suggests not reading too much into the stalemate at this point. Many teachers are on vacation during summer break and union leaders have been at a national convention on the mainland, she said.

"No news is no news. It's not good. It's not bad," Husted said. "When everyone gets back I'm sure it will be topic No. 1."

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