Wednesday, April 15, 2020

HSTA, legislative leaders oppose governor's plan to cut salaries for public workers

Public sector unions were told 10- and 20-percent salary cuts could occur as early as May 1

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On Wednesday, April 15, the Hawaii State Teachers Association held a virtual news conference to oppose and offer alternatives to Gov. David Ige's initial plans to cut salaries for educators and other public employees in the state.

The news conference was live-streamed Wednesday afternoon on HSTA's Facebook page and YouTube channel. It followed a message sent by HSTA President Corey Rosenlee late Tuesday, April 14, that notified members of a potential cut to salaries.

That afternoon, HSTA and other public sector unions were informed by the governor's administration that the state was looking to implement a 20-percent salary cut for most public employees, including educators, and a 10-percent cut for first responders. The cuts could occur as early as May 1, state officials said.

“Hawaii already has a shortage of over 1,000 teachers. If we cut teachers' salaries, that will force teachers to retire and our brand-new teachers to leave,” Rosenlee said during HSTA's news conference, noting there are other sources of funds to consider before cutting salaries.

“The state already has over a billion dollars in its cash surplus and its rainy day fund. Governor, it’s raining,” Rosenlee added. “There may be a time when we have to look at budget cuts, and teachers are willing to work with you, but a rash decision can have devastating results.”

Veteran, new educators worry students will suffer worse vacancies if salary cuts happen

Dana Shishido, a 30-year veteran, teaches third grade at Wheeler Elementary School. She said, “I’ve gone through pay cuts in the past. I’ve gone through the furloughs, neither of which I have financially recovered from. I’m also thinking that I may take an early retirement.

“There are other veteran teachers feeling this way as well. What is that going to do to the students of Hawaii? You have a large group with a wealth of knowledge, of experience, who may potentially be taking that early retirement. How can you do this, governor, to the keiki of Hawaii?” Shishido added.

Jennie Hancock teaches 5th grade at Waikoloa Elementary and Middle School, and is married to a first responder.

After hearing news about potential salary cuts Tuesday night, she texted her mom in Alaska to ask if she and her family could move back in.

“After all of these years of working hard and loving living here and loving the kids and the community, that’s the reality we are facing, is an evacuation in the middle of a pandemic,” Hancock said.

“We really hoped and prayed it wouldn’t happen, but since we already live paycheck-to-paycheck, there’s no possibility of recovering or sustaining our residency in the state if we lose this great portion of our paychecks,” Hancock added.

Maui High School teacher Jodi Kunimitsu is married to another educator who teaches at Baldwin High.

“We were extremely disappointed,” when the couple heard the news about potential salary reductions from HSTA Tuesday night, Kunimitsu said.

“We feel like there should be other options looked at before we look at cutting people’s pay and especially for teachers and first responders, because, as we go through this pandemic right now, we are the ones who are trying so desperately to maintain a sense of normalcy for our students and for our citizens,” she added.

Kunimitsu said the amount of a 20-percent pay cut for her and her husband would equal their infant son’s monthly child care bill.

Lydia Haff teaches English at Waianae High School. 

“I am in my second year of teaching, so my pay isn't very high," said Haff. "My paychecks go directly towards supporting my family with two of my siblings still in high school. I was already working a second job before we went into lockdown, and a 20-percent pay cut would mean even further financial strain on me and my family."

When Haff heard the news from HSTA, she started texting several of her friends, who are also new to teaching. She says they were in a “panic” about potential pay cuts.

Since Hawaii does not produce enough in-state teachers, it relies on many new educators from the continental United States, especially along the Waianae Coast where she teaches.

“If this pay cut were to happen, it would make it even harder for them to stay and this would ultimately hurt our students,” Haff said.

“Especially on the coast where I teach, the turnover at our school is already terrible, with teachers lasting two or three years before quitting or moving away. Because of this, students do not have a lot of opportunities to learn from an experienced teacher. As a new teacher, I’m still figuring out how to manage my classroom and how to be a good teacher. You can’t be a good teacher after two or three years of experience, and we need more practice,” Haff said.


Hawaii News Now's Mahealani Richardson interviewed HSTA President Corey Rosenlee during today's 5:30 p.m....

Posted by Hawaii State Teachers Association on Thursday, April 16, 2020

Legislative leaders oppose Ige's budget cuts

Senate President Ron Kouchi (D, Kauai, Niihau) and House Speaker Scott Saiki (D, McCully, Kakaako, Downtown) issued the following statement in response to Ige's proposal:

Although Governor Ige has the unilateral authority to impose furloughs and salary cuts, we do not agree with such action. We urge the Governor to obtain better data and analysis before he makes this decision. We also urge him to act on all alternatives, just as the National Governors Association did when it called on Congress four days ago to provide an additional $500 billion to the 50 states to stabilize state budgets due to tax revenue shortfalls.

Although we disagree with Governor Ige's proposal, the Legislature will work with him to assess and pursue all options.

Rep. Gene Ward (R, Hawaii Kai, Kalama Valley) issued the following statement:

Pay cuts by the Governor is a bad idea and contrary to the spirit of the Payroll Protection Act to keep our employees whole.

During family or corporate emergencies, borrowing money is the way to go. Hawaii has millions in special funds squirreled away in the Executive Branch—we could borrow from them in the next few months.

Pay cuts to teachers and first responders, including our healthcare workers, is cruel and unusual punishment. If Gov inflicts this on the people of Hawaii, they should be exempt and without furloughs.

Ige appears to backpedal a bit 

Ige said in his own news conference later that afternoon, “I've begun initial conversations with the Legislature and the unions that represent you. But no decisions have been made yet. These discussions are ongoing and we will keep you informed and updated on what this means for you in the days to come.”

Ige says the state anticipates the need to cut $1.5 billion over the next 16 months. “Within that emergency powers, I do have authority to enact many different actions in order to continue the operations of the state in a meaningful way,” he said.

Asked by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser for her reaction to the governor's proposed salary cuts, State Schools Superintendent Christina Kishimoto said, “We are alerted to the need to revisit our state budget and certainly the Department of Education, as a large government agency that relies on the state budget is going to be looking at what this impact is going to mean for us.

“I will say that we’re early in this,” Kishimoto added. “We haven’t received guidance yet, so we are awaiting guidance from Budget and Finance office. That’s typically how it works. We do know that the rest of the school year, which ends May 28, and our summer school planning, we will continue with that and we don’t expect any interruption to this current year or to the summer plan.”

HGEA: First responders also would see a 10% cut

The Hawaii Government Employees Association, which represents roughly 40,000 members statewide, confirmed it had also received the pay cuts proposal verbally and strongly opposes it.

HGEA pointed out that first responders who could see their pay cut by 10 percent include nurses, correctional workers and others.

Many of those same first responders are on the front lines of the state’s fight against COVID-19, something HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira explained in a letter to the governor on Tuesday.

“Many of our members who continue to get paid during this quarantine are struggling due to the layoffs or reduced hours of their spouses or significant others,” he wrote.

“In addition, I take the opportunity to remind you that a significant number of the employees we represent continue to provide critical services to the public, without appropriate protective equipment,” Perreira added.

UHPA: Governor's cabinet members offered few specifics, didn't consult key UH officials

Christian Fern is the executive director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents more than 3,500 faculty members in the University of Hawaii system.

In a message to UHPA members Wednesday, Fern said, "While the Governor may have attempted to soften the blowback to him by convening a face-to-face meeting between his cabinet staff and Hawaii’s public sector labor union leaders, his proposal did not come with any specifics on how this will be accomplished, who will be affected, or how long this will be in effect."

"Even UH President David Lassner and the UH Board of Regents were not included in the Governor’s proposed 'solution.' It was irresponsible to make such an announcement without details and, as expected, this fueled a lot of anxiety and generated a lot of questions since his cabinet staff did not have concrete answers," Fern added.

Take action now by sending a message to Congress

HSTA and our parent union, the National Education Association, are working to minimize any impacts by urging Congress to ensure critical federal funding is reserved for education. States need this money to keep our public schools running.

But we can’t do it alone. Amplify our collective voice by sending your own message to lawmakers in Washington, D.C. Remind them how important it is to support our schools so our students don’t suffer. Warn them of the devastating impacts a lack of funding would have on our keiki, our community, and our future.

Submit your message here

The following message was emailed to HSTA members on Tuesday, April 14. If you are an active HSTA member and would like to subscribe to our Member Matters e-newsletter, click here.

My fellow educators,

Earlier today, leaders from the Hawaii State Teachers Association and other public sector unions received ominous news from Gov. David Ige’s administration.

In a meeting at the state Capitol, we were informed that the governor wants to implement a 20-percent salary cut for most public employees, including educators, and a 10-percent cut for first responders, such as police officers, firefighters, nurses, and EMTs. These cuts could occur as early as May 1.

According to the governor’s human resources and budget directors, the cuts are meant to prevent an economic collapse as the coronavirus pandemic cuts off a major source of state revenue. We were not given any formal proposal, and it is unclear if the governor intends to implement these cuts as furloughs or across-the-board salary decreases.

This is unacceptable. While we recognize the coronavirus has already started to cripple Hawaii’s economy, no one can be sure of its long-term impacts. We believe cutting salaries for tens of thousands of state workers is rash and will hurt our state even more.

A 20-percent salary reduction would result in the loss of between $600 and $1,800 in monthly income for our educators. Salaries for Hawaii’s public school educators are already low, and cutting an additional 20 percent will inevitably worsen Hawaii’s teacher shortage crisis, denying our keiki the quality educators they deserve.

We believe there are other options. Hawaii has access to additional resources. At the close of last fiscal year, Hawaii had a cash surplus and rainy day fund totaling more than $1 billion. Congress recently appropriated $863 million to our state government with hundreds of millions more for our counties as part of a $2 trillion stimulus package—and lawmakers are discussing additional stimulus funding.

We know this is a scary situation. We are actively working to get more details and will inform you of the latest developments as soon as we can. HSTA and other public sector unions have made it clear to the governor that this will exacerbate our weakening economy, hurt government employees, and potentially prolong this crisis.

We stand united and will not accept the governor’s plan without exploring every last alternative to keep these harmful cuts from happening.

In solidarity,

Corey Rosenlee
HSTA President

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