Teachers have the right to strike in Hawaii, but cannot do so while they have a pending complaint in front of the state labor relations board. However, the board has failed to take any action, despite an appeal to the state supreme court by the Hawaii State Teachers Association, so a labor stoppage cannot be taken legally.
This leaves HSTA in an awkward position. Union members are currently working under a contract imposed by Gov. Neil Abercrombie in 2011. They don’t like that contract, but they don’t like the governor’s latest proposal either. HSTA has three options: 1) the status quo; 2) an illegal strike; or 3) other labor actions. The union went with #3 and instituted what appears to be a rolling “work-to-rule” protest.
“Work-to-rule” means employees perform only the duties explicitly called for in the contract for the prescribed amount of time. This usually means no extracurricular activities or after-school meetings.
Instead of doing this all at once across the entire bargaining unit, HSTA first sanctioned the protest at the state’s largest public school last week. Another is scheduled for November 29 at 17 schools across Hawaii, according to the Facebook page set up by teachers.
Unless one side or the other changes direction, the education labor situation is headed for a major showdown. Hawaii may be the most union-friendly state in the country, with a single bargaining unit, constitutional protections, and a Democrat-dominant state government. Nevertheless, HSTA has always had an uneasy relationship with the powers-that-be. As we saw in Chicago, party loyalties don’t matter much when the collective bargaining agreement is at stake.