Hawaii univ. president's letter slammed by union

AP News
Posted: Dec 23, 2009 11:01 AM

A letter from the president of the University of Hawaii declaring that labor negotiations are at an "impasse" prompted the union that represents faculty to declare it is ready to go to court.

M.R.C. Greenwood, who took over the 10-campus system in August, said in a letter on the university's Web site that she now must seek a 6.7 percent pay cut for professors over the next 18 months, starting Jan. 1.

The move was prompted by the rejection of a university proposal for a 5 percent pay cut over two years, she said.

"It is deeply disappointing that we remain at an impasse in our negotiations for a new contract with the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents our faculty," Greenwood said.

But the letter _ and an accompanying press release that also used the term "impasse" _ generated pointed criticism from union Executive Director J.N. Musto.

Musto said Tuesday in a statement that he feared the university is about to formally declare an impasse. If it did, the university would run afoul of language that keeps the contract in force until a new agreement is signed, he said.

"It appears the UH administration would like to legally challenge this evergreen clause, and UHPA is fully prepared to go to court to defend this," Musto said.

An impasse, when used in the context of labor negotiations, is a legal term used by employers to declare that talks are at a dead end. They then can unilaterally impose changes to wages and benefits, but unionized employees then have the right to strike.

Linda Johnsrud, university vice president for academic planning and policy, said in an interview that while UH is "factually" at an impasse, it has not taken the next step to alter faculty salaries on its own.

Greenwood said in her letter that salary cuts are needed to help cope with a $154 million cut that Gov. Linda Lingle made in university allocations as part of government-wide budget cuts.

The university initially proposed a four-year plan with 5 percent cuts to faculty salaries during the first two years, which would be restored to current levels in the latter two years, Greenwood wrote.

The union countered with a proposal permitting the pay cuts but also requiring 7.5 percent pay hikes in the third and fourth years, she added. The university rejected that.

A subsequent university proposal offered 5 percent pay cuts, guaranteed restoration to current levels and talks on salary hikes if economic conditions improve, but the union said no, Greenwood said.

The university now must seek salary cuts of 6.7 percent spread over 18 months, beginning next month, she wrote.

"The university simply does not have the money to meet UHPA's expectations during the current funding crisis," she stated.

But Musto asserted that reducing faculty salaries "to meet the budget shortfall will cut our nose to spite our face."