Big Isle teachers join in protest


By COLIN M. STEWART

Tribune-Herald staff writer

About 25 teachers, parents and supporters stood Thursday afternoon along Waianuenue Avenue in front of Hilo High and Intermediate schools, holding up signs and waving to passersby.

“Support Our Teachers” read one sign.

“Contract=Negotiable/Teaching Our Keiki=Priceless” stated another.

Their messages to the community were ones of positivity and hope. But upon speaking with them, it became clear that there is anger and disappointment behind their message.

“We’re out here to make it known that teachers have been working without a contract. We had one placed upon us by the governor,” said Hilo High teacher Val DeCorte. “… We’ve been cut out of the process.”

DeCorte and other teachers said they were participating in a series of weekly “work to rule” protests before and after their official work day ends. The purpose, they said, is to show the public how much work they do “off the clock.”

“Unless we do this, they won’t know the difference we make,” explained Parent Community Coordinator Lindsay Pickup.

The educators said that they are continually asked to give of their own free time for their students, and they have continued to be there for them because they know how important their role is, despite the fact that they haven’t had a pay raise in five years.

“We remember being in high school,” DeCorte said. “We remember needing after-school activities, extra tutoring … We attend games and everything else.”

For instance, she said, this weekend she and other teachers will be acting as chaperones for Hilo High’s prom. They’ll be working about five hours, but they won’t be paid for their time, she said. They feel taken for granted, she said.

The group in Hilo is not alone. Teachers across the state have been participating in weekly “work to rule” protests, in which they work only the hours they are contracted for, from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. It’s an attempt, they say, to highlight the lesson preparations, exam grading and other tasks they must do “off the clock” in order to serve their students.

The members of the Hawaii State Teachers Association have resorted to the tactic in response to their ongoing dispute with Gov. Neil Abercrombie and the state over contract negotiations. The dispute began in July of 2011 after Abercrombie enacted a “last, best and final offer” calling for cuts to wages and higher health care premiums.

The first “work to rule” protest was held in mid-November at James Campbell High on Oahu, but quickly spread to schools around Hawaii.

“Eventually, every school in the state plans to do something,” said Wil Okabe, president of the HSTA.

More than 70 schools were expected to participate on Thursday.

On Wednesday, a state Department of Education representative informed the Board of Education that, while teachers are permitted to participate in the work to rule protests, they would still be required to complete the work expected of them.

In response, Okabe said that the teachers’ right to protest is protected under the state constitution and the state’s collective bargaining statute.

“This argument over what is covered by the contract and what isn’t is a distraction and a deflection from the real issue — the fact that teachers have been disrespected by the governor,” he said.

“We don’t want to be in this crisis. It was not our doing. The governor, during contract negotiations, imposed a 5 percent pay cut to Hawaii’s teachers. We have tried to negotiate a fair contract with the governor, but to no avail.”

According to a Wednesday Frequently Asked Questions posting on the HSTA website, a “work to rule” protest is “legally protected concerted activity.” However, it said, “if given a direct order by your supervisor, we advise that you follow the directive and grieve it later.”

The Hilo teachers said Thursday afternoon that they had taken great care to ensure that their protest wouldn’t interrupt the learning process for their students.

“We don’t come out here until 3:01,” said Hilo Intermediate teacher Nelson Jacinto. “We’re not here to cripple the activities of the school.”

DeCorte added that school administrators had been supportive of the protests because they know their teachers put the students first.

“We’re not missing any hours. We’re doing our jobs. … We know the kids need us,” she said.

Email Colin M. Stewart at cstewart@hawaiitribune-herald.com.

 

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