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Friday, April 8, 2011
Abercrombie’s $100M omission: HGEA settlement tied to other secret labor agreements
By Andrew Walden @ 10:09 PM :: 9468 Views :: Energy, Environment

by Andrew Walden

Rep Cynthia Thielen calls it a “deceptive sleight of hand”

The Star-Advertiser April 8 says it is “a huge omission.”

The secrecy surrounding Hawaii Governor Neil Abercrombie’s giveaway of six hours per month—nine days per year--of paid “Comp Time” in the State and County HGEA contract is getting lots of media attention.  Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle says the Comp Time and the elimination of scheduled furloughs counterbalance the 5% wage cut and amount to a 1.5% raise.  The Grassroot Institute estimates the cost at more than $100M over the course of the contract.

But “Comp Time” is not Abercrombie’s only omission—in fact the HGEA settlement proposal is intertwined with two earlier secret labor agreements.

In his April 6 announcement, Abercrombie touted a contract clause including: “An equal contribution (50/50) for public workers’ health benefits between public employees and the State and county governments.”  He calls it an example of “shared sacrifice”: 

Since the beginning of our administration, we have talked about shared sacrifice as the pathway to changing Hawai'i.  Today, the Hawai'i Government Employees Association stepped forward to do their part by making a sacrifice to help all people of Hawai'i. In these worst of fiscal times, a new era of teamwork and hope has begun.

But 50-50 is merely a return to rules used under the Lingle Administration.  On December 23, 2010, Abercrombie signed a secret memorandum of understanding with UHPA, UPW, HGEA, and HSTA to give away an extra 10% starting March 1.  This agreement became public only because it was posted on the UHPA website.  The HGEA’s big 50-50 “sacrifice” is to give back something it has had for only six weeks. 

It gets worse.  The new HGEA contract has a “favored nation clause”—also not announced by Abercrombie.   The “favored nation clause” is known because a single-page contract summary was leaked to KHON last night by an anonymous source. 

The contact summary also indicates that “administrative time off with pay (is) to be used within the contract period.  In the event that an employee separates from service for any reason, any accumulated administrative time off will not be paid out.”  But “favored nation” means that if UPW or HSTA come away with a better contract—after the Legislature adjourns—their contract terms will apply to HGEA as well.  This entire exercise is designed to make it easier for Legislators to raise taxes by creating the illusion of “shared sacrifice”.  Will Legislators be tricked into “sacrificing” their political careers on November 6, 2012?     

The secret comp time was itself copied from another of Abercrombie’s secret labor agreements—a little noted deal to eliminate furloughs for 4,900 members of HGEA and UPW Bargaining Units One and Ten—in exchange for 88 hours of Comp Time—eleven days paid time off.  That deal was only discovered by Hawaii Reporter’s Greg Wiles because it was mentioned in a single line of the February board minutes of the Hawaii Public Housing Authority—posted on line March 17.

In spite of having never announced the contents of this labor agreement, Abercrombie saw fit to brag about it in a March 16 message touting his accomplishments in his first 100 days.  Among them he claimed to have: “cooperated with  public sector unions to put thousands of federally funded workers back on the job.”

This odd reference sent Civil Beat on a bureaucratic odyssey attempting to discover what Abercrombie was talking about.  After a week, Civil Beat received a message from Barbara Kreig, Deputy Director of the State Department of Human Resource Development:

"The statement in the press release referred to agreements the State Executive Branch negotiated at the Governor's direction with two unions, the United Public Workers (UPW) and Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) to bring federally funded (and specially funded) State employees back to work from the furloughs.”

It turns out that the Abercrombie Administration did talk to the media about this earlier secret agreement, for some reason citing 1,200 workers, not 4,900.  But, just as with the HGEA settlement announcement, the Administration skipped any mention of Comp Time.   A February 3, 2011 AP article reports:

Furloughs for 1,200 state workers paid with federal funds are ending.

In its efforts to end all labor disputes held over from the Lingle administration, Gov. Neil Abercrombie's administration came to an agreement with the United Public Workers union on the matter.

"We wanted to end furloughs for the federally funded state positions," said Donalyn Dela Cruz, Abercrombie's spokeswoman. "We wanted to start off on a clean slate."

"The state did not save any money by furloughing federally funded workers," she added.

Paid time off as part of the HGEA negotiations came up in a March 22, 2011 KITV story by Daryl Huff:  

The proposal under consideration would allow each employee to use the time off like other leaves when it was convenient for the worker and managers….

It may be very difficult to get employees to give up five percent of their take-home pay without offering time off. Union leaders said many workers are comfortable with the furlough concept and enjoy the time off they got in return for the lower pay.

While the unions may be very “comfortable”, County Mayors are not.  In the KITV story, Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa voiced many of the same misgivings that he and Carlisle now express about the settlement today on the table.  Both are reporting they have yet to receive a full accounting of the proposed contact terms.  Abercrombie must win the support of at least one of the four mayors to agree to the settlement, yet he seems as secretive with them as he is with the public and the press.  

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