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Teachers Speak Out for a Fair Contract

Molokai teachers are joining public school educators around Hawaii to raise awareness for their efforts of negotiating a fair contract with the state. Since July 2011, teachers have been working under a contract imposed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, which included wage cuts and higher healthcare premiums. The Hawaii State Teachers Association (HSTA) union has been unsuccessfully trying to negotiate a contract with the state for the past year and a half, and teachers are frustrated with the lack of movement on a new labor agreement.

“We are trying to go through the proper protocols but the governor would prefer to mandate rather than negotiate,” said Tania Manaba-Will, the Kaunakakai Elementary School HSTA representative. “The national rhetoric is ‘put students first,’ but how can we put children first if we’re putting teachers last?”

Teachers protest in front of Kaunakakai School last week. Photo by Jenn Whitted

Molokai teachers from every school have been participating in weekly rallies, holding signs to raise public awareness of the situation.

“We would like to be treated fairly, that’s why we’re protesting,” said Manaba-Will. “We’re still furloughed after four years, and they’ve imposed pay cuts. It doesn’t make for a happy teacher.”

Tom Perry of the HSTA told The Garden Island newspaper last week that this was the first time in state’s history that a governor has imposed the state’s “last, best and final offer,” as the July 2011 contract has been called.

Underpaid and Overworked
Manaba-Will said while other public service and state workers, such as police and fire personnel, get paid overtime, teachers continue to volunteer their time above and beyond their paid hours.

“We’re not paid overtime, yet sometimes I’m at school until 8 or 10 at night — we work so much overtime,” she said.

She said teachers have received no pay raises in the past 10 years, and have, in fact, faced wage cuts. She said most Molokai teachers have to take a second or third job just to make ends meet.

“Public school teachers in Hawaii and across the country have continued to put the student first in spite of the financial hardships that have impacted us as a result of our struggling national economy,” said Kaunakakai Elementary teacher Bob Underwood.

In addition to being underpaid and overworked, teachers are also understaffed, according to Manaba-Will. She said the state claims a student to teacher ratio of 20 to one, but her Kindergarten class currently has 24 students and she only has an assistant for “a couple hours a day, and some days I go without.”

And while many people think furlough days are a thing of the past, Manaba-Will said they still exist for teachers. Furloughs were instituted in 2009 for all state employees, known as “Furlough Fridays” in schools. It reduced the school week from five to four days three weeks out of every month, and though Furloughs Fridays were no longer in effect as of fall 2010, Manaba-Will said now, furlough days just have another name.

“They’re calling it directed leave without pay,” she said, adding that furlough days are often incorporated into the school schedule in relation to vacations, such as starting break weeks a day early.

“We’re feeling demoralized,” she explained. “We want the public to know we’re working under these tight constraints.”

Negotiation Efforts
The HSTA has been working with the governor for the past year and a half, as well as the Hawaii Labor Relations Board, to resolve the issue and negotiate a contract. Several rounds of negotiations, bills and settlements have been offered by both sides, and an agreement has yet to be reached.

The HSTA even filed lawsuits against the state to protect teachers’ Constitutional rights to bargain, according to contractforthefuture.org, a website launched by the HSTA, devoted to the union’s efforts to end the dispute.

In a statement emailed to the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, governor’s spokesperson Louise Kim McCoy said the state is “committed to negotiating and remains hopeful that we can reach a positive resolution with HSTA.”

The current contract expires June 30.

“It’s time for Governor Abercrombie to stop playing politics and give teachers a fair and equitable contract,” said Underwood.


One Response to “Teachers Speak Out for a Fair Contract”

  1. Kalikiano says:

    There was once a time when I swore a mighty oath that I’d skewer the next person who trotted out that worn-out old Santayana chestnut (“…those who fail to learn from the past are condemned to repeat it”, or words to that effect)! Sadly, however, that phrase is invariably so apt that one could easily describe all of the history of humanity through its broad application. I am reminded of that truism once again, as I read this article on teacher contracts and ‘fairness’ for those who assume so much responsibility for turning out socially conscionable and responsible citizens in our culture.

    Another social commentator once observed that the two groups of people who are most crucial to the furtherance of our society (nurses and teachers) are the least valued, when it comes to quid pro quo remuneration. That is, despite the important place they have in the structure of our social institutions and culture, nurses and teachers are invariably at the bottom of the value hierarchy, when all is said and done.

    Fortunately for them, to some significant extent, nurses have managed to collectively arbitrate the terms and conditions of their employment to their overall advantage (at least in most cases), since the nursing unions remain some of the most powerful in the entire nation (never underestimate da power of da wahine, eh!), and yes there are a few male nurses in the mix, but by and large nursing remains predominantly a woman’s profession.

    Teachers are not quite as fortunate, despite also having very large and powerful professional organisations, and in most cases teachers struggle to achieve the slightest glimmer of recognition for the critically important role they play in helping educate the little savages we call our beloved keiki. I say this fully mindful of the fact that in the best of all possible worlds, if parents did their job as effectively as they ought, teachers would not have to be ‘prison guards’ first and educators second in our schools. Sadly, though, given the massive and all pervasive impact our (mainland) pop-culture’s hedonistic materialism has on our youth (through remorseless commercial marketing of youthful consumerism and corporate youth marketing exploitation), many parents do not in fact fulfill their parental obligations adequately and casually leave it to our school teachers to function both as parent surrogates AND educators. (The former capacity implicitly involves the application of a healthy dollop of ‘prison guard’ and ‘parole officer’, ironically enough.)

    Consequently, teachers all face a monumental challenge to penetrate that youthful ‘attitude’ of rebellious indifference (that characterises so many adolescents) to education that is being hammered into them by commercial/corporate marketing, on top of trying to obtain suitable valuational parity with other less critical occupations. It’s far more than a double whammy, to be sure.

    Nurses we ignored at our peril, since the minute our health is jeopardized, nurses constitute one of the primary support nets we all reply upon. Teachers, on the other hand, are often casually ignored with a shrugged off air of indifference that says “Well, they may not be good students, but they’ll survive (and thrive), one way or another, without teachers.” That , as the smarter ones among us know, is simply an ignorant refusal to embrace the truth that education is our only collective hope for a better, more responsible, more balanced and fair-minded society that meets all needs equitably.

    Ignore teachers at your risk, hoalohas. While we all must sacrifice to some extent in these times of financial constraint and funding cutbacks, don’t leave our educators out of the loop! My own makuwahine was a teacher for many years, so I’ve long viewed the plight of our undervalued educators through sensitised eyes. I know the struggles they contend with and the discouragement they experience when they finally learn just how unappreciated and undervalued they are in a society (imported mainland society, not traditional Hawaiian indigenous society) like ours, that inflexibly values making a quick buck over long-term investing in the minds and spirits of our keiki.

    I admit my bias for teachers openly, but I also thank them endlessly each day of my life for making me the broad-minded, aware and responsible person I like to think I am. Li’dat, eh?

    A hui hou and thanks for listening, Kalikiano…

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