United Public Workers' bargaining units divided on ratifying labor agreement

Leila Fujimori, The Honolulu Star-Advertiser
·3 min read

Apr. 24—A misinformation campaign on social media is blamed for the failure of a bargaining unit of public-sector workers to ratify a collective bargaining agreement that led to missing a key legislative deadline.

United Public Workers /AFSCME Local 646 announced Friday that Bargaining Unit 1, made up of between 8, 000 and 9, 000 state and county blue-collar, nonsupervisory workers, ratified the agreement by the Friday deadline.

But Bargaining Unit 10, made up of about 2, 500 to 3, 000 public institutional, health and corrections workers, rejected the agreement by a narrow margin.

Much of the misinformation was on the issue of medical insurance premiums, and ultimately Unit 10 rejected the contract proposal.

"When members called the union or called negotiating team members, members said they were being misled and misinformed, " UPW Administrator Liz Ho said. "It was an attack on Facebook and Instagram."

Bargaining Unit 1 ratified the agreement, which locks in the contribution split of medical plan premiums paid 60 % by employer and 40 % by employee on Hawaii Medical Service Association's 80-20 plan (where HMSA covers 80 % of the medical bill and the member pays 20 %).

"We're trying to minimize the increase in premiums the employees have to pay, " Ho said. "The increase in premiums out-of-pocket will not be significantly different."

The HMSA 80-20 plan is the one in which most employees are enrolled.

It seems some members may have been confused as to what the HMSA 80-20 plan means and that wrong information was spread.

One post erroneously said, "They want to make ... our medical go from 80 /20 to 50 /50."

A corrections officer posted similar false information, saying employees would pay half the medical premiums, and added another falsehood that all hazard pay would be denied.

Ho said the union has no control over the medical plan premiums, which are negotiated by a state agency, the Employer Union Trust Fund.

Union negotiators managed to stave off any pay cuts, and got an agreement to reopen negotiations July 1, 2022, to discuss possible wage increases.

Ho said that due to the pandemic, the employer initially offered a 9.23 % pay cut effective July 1, with a restoration of pay after four years.

The union explained to its members in a video that the governor had proposed furloughs, which delayed the negotiations. He also proposed a 20 % pay cut at the beginning of the pandemic, then in September, a 9.23 % pay cut for all members starting December 2020 through July 2024.

But with the election of a new U.S. president came the American Rescue Plan, providing the needed aid to state and local governments to help with budget shortfalls, Ho said.

UPW explained to its members they had to ratify the agreement by Friday since wages and medical plan premiums are cost items, which have to be appropriated through legislation, and all bills had to be finalized by Friday to pass this legislative session. Otherwise, it will not be considered until the 2022 session, unless a special session is called.

The Bargaining Unit 10's contract expires June 30, and UPW will speak with employers about extending the contract and continuing negotiations.

"If we cannot come up with an agreement by that time and we are at an impasse ... Unit 10, because of the jobs we hold, we're not able to strike. We have to continue working, " said Lorena Kashiwamura, secretary of the Unit 10 executive negotiations committee and a member.

She said the matter will then go to arbitration. A neutral third-party arbitrator will hear both sides and make the decision for the members.

"Members will not be allowed to vote, " she said.

Kashiwamura said that the smaller Bargaining Unit 10 held out and successfully went through arbitration the last time its contract was up four years ago.

"But that time the economy was different, " she said. "I sat on that negotiating team. It was a different time, a different economy. We weren't in a pandemic. Hawaii was flourishing. You're gambling, hoping the arbitrator will decide that way. It's never a sure thing."