Questions linger around HGEA contract agreement

Hawaii Independent Staff

HONOLULU -– The State of Hawaii and its counties concluded a contract agreement with the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) yesterday. Gov. Neil Abercrombie said the agreement will save the State about $65 million over the next two years for fiscal year 2012 and $59 million for fiscal year 2013.

Details of the two-year contract from July 1, 2011 to June 30, 2013 include:

* An equal contribution (50/50) for public workers’ health benefits between public employees and the State and county governments.

* A 5 percent reduction in base pay for public employees without furlough days or layoffs.

“Since the beginning of our administration, we have talked about shared sacrifice as the pathway to changing Hawaii,” Abercrombie said in a statement on Wednesday. “HGEA stepped forward to do their part by making a sacrifice to help all people of Hawaii. In these worst of fiscal times, a new era of teamwork and hope has begun.”

The agreement ends the two-day-a-month furloughs in the current contract that resulted in a 10 percent decrease in base pay and shutdown of services for the public. Also under the current contract, the State and counties provide 60 percent of health benefits for public employees.

“We have reached an agreement that puts an end to Furlough Fridays and provides our citizens with the services that they expect,” Abercrombie said. “The provisions we agreed to will save millions of taxpayer dollars and help maintain vital services to help us emerge from these difficult economic times. The State’s largest public sector union and the State of Hawaii are uniting to put the people of Hawaii first.”

The agreement will require a ratification vote by over 28,000 HGEA members.

This is the first public labor union agreement with the State and counties this year. Contracts for the United Public Workers, Hawaii State Teachers Association, State of Hawaii Police Officers Union and Hawaii Fire Fighters Association are under discussion.

The potential deal with the HGEA gives State lawmakers some idea of how much to expect from labor savings as they complete their drafts of the budget, Honolulu Advertiser’s Derrick DePledge reported. The House budget draft does not include any labor savings, while the Senate draft that moved out of the Senate Ways and Means Committee on Tuesday presumes that the equivalent of two furlough days a month for State workers would continue.

Honolulu Mayor Peter Carlisle said in a statement that he had further questions about the HGEA agreement and its impact on Honolulu’s economy.

“During my discussions with Governor Abercrombie on the phone this morning regarding the HGEA tentative agreement, I was told about the five percent reduction in base pay and the 50/50 [Employer Union Health Benefits Trust Fund] EUTF contribution,” Carlisle said. “I was also told of other provisions that I could not agree with, including additional paid time off for government workers.

“The provisions that I could not agree with were not included in the Governor’s press release. I need to find out in writing the truth and the whole truth about the provisions of the tentative agreement. Once we have received all of the provisions in writing, we will need to determine the financial impact on the City.”

Maui Mayor Alan Arakawa also said he remained unclear about certain parts of the agreement, Maui Now reported. “I would like to meet with the governor and other mayors first to discuss it in detail,” Arakawa said. “We all want to work together on this, to do what’s best for the State and for the county.”

State legislators also had questions about the governor’s math, KHON2 News reported. “Look at the math, two days of furloughs is about $130 million,” said Rep. Gene Ward, (R) House Minority Leader. “[Abercrombie] took off the one day of furlough so it’s $65 million left. $65 million is what he’s claiming as actually the savings, yet there’s still $65 million still on the table.”

KITV4 News highlighted that public workers would get more paid time off under the agreement, which adds six hours of paid time off for each HGEA worker a month, time employees must use over the next two years. That gives them nine more vacation days a year, on top of 21 vacation days the most senior public workers already have.

“Public employees are our neighbors. They are family members and taxpayers,” Abercrombie said. “Though we are facing difficult times, Hawaii can pull through this fiscal crisis if we all do our part and work together.”