Teacher contract talks could start again

State, teacher's union ask for federal help

Published  8:43 AM HST Aug 21, 2012
HSTA
HONOLULU -

Negotiators with the State of Hawaii and the Hawaii State Teachers Union are headed back to the bargaining table, with a little help.

Contract talks between the two sides had been stopped for months, but now both groups are looking forward to meeting again.

For 13 months, both sides disagreed on pay, benefits and even which contract to focus efforts. Now, there is finally something both the HSTA union and the governor can agree on.

"It is a third party federal mediator that will bring us together to resolve our differences," said Wil Okabe, the HSTA president.

Gov. Neil Abercrombie was pleased the union took him up on his offer to bring in federal help to get the two sides talking again.  He released a statement Monday night which said,"This is a step forward, by both sides, to find a solution that will resolve our differences for the sake of our students and school teachers."

Public school teachers have been without a contract agreement since last year.  When the contract ended, a state-imposed "last, best and final" offer went into effect.   It cut pay and raised benefit costs for educators.

As the dispute dragged on, the clash over a contract kept many educators from completely focusing on their important task:  teaching students.

"It has been a distraction. I got thousands of emails from teachers wanting a resolution. This will give us an opportunity to do that," said Okabe.

Even though the federal government is stepping in to help, the mediator won't decide on the final contract agreement.  Instead, the mediator will keep the two sides talking, which has been a challenge in the past.

But, some feel, an outsider at the bargaining table may give negotiators from both sides a chance to see the same disagreement from a different perspective.

"It will give us a chance to understand the state's side and will give us a chance to express our side as well," said Okabe.

The renewed talks could start as early as next week.

Along with discussing the main sticking point, an initial contract that would run through next summer, the latest offer from the state may also be hashed out.

That offer was presented earlier this month, and would set pay rates and raises for teachers from 2013-2015.

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