By CAROLYN LUCAS-ZENK
A tide of red could be seen Monday morning on every corner of Queen Kaahumanu Highway and Palani Road intersection, as well as lining these Kailua-Kona streets. Nearly 120 red-shirted teachers and their allies carried signs, some targeting Gov. Neil Abercrombie, showing solidarity to those passing by.
The West Hawaii educators mostly flashed shakas and yelled appreciation to motorists who honked, whistled, cheered or waved in support. But there were also occasional insults or disapproving comments, such as, “Go back to work” and “Do your job.”
These Hawaii State Teachers Association Kona Chapter members’ message was clear: We don’t have a contract. We still have furloughs.
“We hope the public will stand besides us and support us,” Diane Aoki, HSTA Kona Chapter president and Kealakehe Elementary School teacher. “Help us send a message to Abercrombie, the Board of Education and state officials that teachers deserve a living wage, decent working conditions and benefits by writing letters and voting for candidates who support public education. All teachers really want is to deliver quality education for fair compensation.”
HSTA Kona Chapter Vice President Maia Daugherty said the Unity Day rally was held Discoverers’ Day because it’s one of seven and a half imposed furloughs on non-instructional days this school year, which is identical to last year. HSTA wanted to bring awareness that furloughs still exist, only the state calls them a directed leave without pay day.
“The difference between furloughs and directed leave without pay days is, in the case of teachers, there is no reduction in the number of days students are being taught in the classroom,” said Donalyn Dela Cruz, deputy director of communications for the governor’s office in Honolulu. “Unlike previous cost-saving measures, the governor was able to achieve needed cost savings without interrupting student learning.”
Hawaii’s teachers have been on furloughs for four years and without a contract for two years while dealing with a 5 percent pay cut, increasing health insurance and medical costs, a rising cost of living and ever-demanding workload, Daugherty said.
Aoki said, “We don’t have a contract and have not agreed to the last-best-final offer, which the state is allowed to manipulate to their advantage, work on the parts of their choosing, impose unjust pay cuts and disguise furloughs so that they seem less harmful.”
Teachers have been working under the terms of a last-best-final offer since July 1, 2011. The offer is “essentially the terms the parties tentatively agreed to by the HSTA bargaining team and the state in June 2011, until the HSTA Board rejected those terms,” Dela Cruz said. The terms included a 5 percent labor cost savings, acheived by a temporary 1.5 percent salary cut and directed leave without pay for certain designated non-instruction days, she added.
Contract negotiations and mediation have been held since January, with the help of the federal Mediation and Conciliation Service. However last week, the governor issued a statement, explaining HSTA was no longer continuing that process of mediation and refuses to participate in negotiations. “The governor hopes that HSTA will return to the bargaining table,” Dela Cruz said.
Daugherty is a Ke Kula O Ehunui Kaimalino Hawaiian Immersion School librarian and her husband is a teacher who also referees sporting events. They have a farm. She said teachers and educational support professionals, as well as their significant others, must now work two and three jobs to make ends-meet.
Aoki said teachers are considered 10-month employees and do have shorter contracted workdays, but it doesn’t mean they have summers off or don’t work as long or longer than the typical 40-hour workweek. For most, the day isn’t over when the bell rings and work — usually non-compensated school-related activities such as grading papers or club advising — continues at home and on weekends.
Konawaena Middle School teacher Guy Gambone wants a contract that pays a fair, competitive, living wage. Two to four nights a week, he works a second job as a cook at Annie’s Burgers. He doesn’t feel as prepared or rested. Nor does he get as much time as he’d like with his wife and their 5-year-old twins.
“It’s hard to make it,” he said. “We’re scrounging nickles and dimes just to pay for basic needs.”
Still Gambone wouldn’t forgo teaching. At 13, Gambone was affected by a teacher who cared and helped reveal his potential. Gambone said if he can do the same as a teacher, it would be best payback and accomplishment.
Email Carolyn Lucas-Zenk at email@example.com.