The mission of the Hawaii State Teachers Association is to:
As an organization, the Hawaii State Teachers Association values:
Forty Years of Service
If only teachers had nothing more to worry about than finding creative ways to motivate their students. Unfortunately, that is hardly the case. Fortunately, teachers in Hawaii have had one staunch advocate.
On January 1, 1971, with the formal incorporation of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, a core group of dedicated visionaries came together to form the frontline in the battle to bring education and teacher issues to the forefront of the State’s public agenda. Now, more than a quarter of a century later, many of those same leaders are still fighting for teachers’ rights. Today, they are focused on a new set of goals and priorities, but their ideals remain the same - to make school a better place for teachers and students alike.
Education is the fundamental foundation of our society. This simple principle drives the ongoing efforts of the Association as it represents teachers in the workplace and beyond. The Association works, not simply to get “perks” for teachers, but to create an environment where teachers have every opportunity to do their best for the students. HSTA has long recognized that students are the true beneficiaries of education - advances made on behalf of teachers benefit students - and the more students gain from education, the more we all gain in the long run.
These are tremendously challenging times. Teachers are being asked to do more for a larger, more diverse student population, while facing greater obstacles in and out of the classroom, with far fewer resources.
Although this may seem like an escalating crisis, just look around to see how much teachers achieve in the classroom every day. Certainly, much can be attributed to their own amazing ingenuity, but teachers also have come to rely on the Association as a vigorous advocate of their cause. The Association is valued not only for the hard fought victories won on teachers’ behalf in the tumultuous days of the early 70s, but also for the groundbreaking accomplishments in many emerging areas of professional concern to teachers.
HSTA and teachers form a partnership that works.
Trial and Triumph: The Early Years
Without the organized unified voice of the Hawaii State Teachers Association, Hawaii’s public school teachers would likely be working under vastly different circumstances than they find themselves today.
HSTA gave teachers much more than just a “voice.” The Association also gave them the knowledge that they didn’t have to accept an untenable situation, they could stand together and say, “We want something better for ourselves and our students.”
As recently as the late 1960s, teachers found the following conditions:
• no duty-free lunch period
• an extremely limited holiday schedule
• open-ended work days
• faculty meetings outside the regular day
• expected to schedule all parent-teacher conferences outside the regular school day
• forced to monitor classroom and bathroom cleaning and
• asked to work under conditions that were considered too hazardous for their students.
At that time, the Department of Education treated teachers as though they were second-class citizens. As one veteran educator puts it, “They treated us like we were stupid.” It was all too clear that if teachers were to have a voice or gain any professional recognition, they would have to unite and stand up for themselves.
In the mid-60s, there was a veritable explosion in the number of teachers needed. Suddenly, the Department found itself hiring 4,000 - 5,000 teachers to fill the newly created positions. Most of the teachers were young, fresh from school and well versed in the exploits of the civil rights and anti-war movements. Almost immediately, their presence infused teachers throughout the state with new ideas, fresh perspective and a growing interest in the power of activism.
At this point, the social and political turmoil of the 1960s ran headlong into the quiet complacency of an education system where teachers were expected to go to work, do what was asked of them, and go home at the end of the day without disputing their circumstances.
Into this environment came a whole new generation of teachers who had no qualms about asserting their rights and standing up for what they believed in. These “Young Turks” as they were known, ignited a flame of reform and political action that has been, and continues to be, the hallmark of HSTA.
The civil rights movement played a pivotal role in the evolution of the Association and the unified representation of teachers. Collective bargaining was the initial flash point for teachers who were looking for a way to improve working conditions. The 1968 Hawaii State Constitutional Convention made collective bargaining a constitutional right and opened the door for teachers to take action for themselves.
Facing Goliath: Representation
The Hawaii State Teachers Association was originally created with the sole mission of serving the needs of Hawaii’s public school teachers, in all facets of their professional lives.
The saga of HSTA began in 1971 when teachers were called upon to decide first if they desired organized representation at all and then, which organization they would select to represent them. For the newly coalesced Association, its staff and leadership, those early months represented a battle against the forces that were satisfied with the way things had always been.
The representative election pitted HSTA against the Hawaii Federation of Teachers. HFT was a “pure” union that devoted itself to addressing the “bread-and-butter” issues of employment, wages, hours and working conditions.
On the other side of the ballot, HSTA had developed a more holistic yin-and-yang approach to the situation combining the basics with a strong focus on professional issues and development. For HSTA it was about more than getting a better deal for teachers - it was about putting teachers in the driver’s seat, where they would have a chance to make education better.
With creativity, energy, effort and sheer willpower, the Association convinced the “Old Guard” that dramatic change and possible confrontation - even a strike - were the only real ways to ensure that teachers could win a better deal for themselves on every level from personal job satisfaction to professional recognition and reward.
The beginning was a time when conflict between the growing wave of militancy among teachers and the steadfast undercurrent of “going-along-to-get-along” suddenly came to a head. Not surprisingly, victory ultimately came to the Association, speaking out in favor of teachers; taking a stand to show that they would no longer accept what the administration chose to offer them.
Almost immediately, their presence infused teachers throughout the state with new ideas, fresh perspective and a growing interest in the power of activism.
Facing Goliath: Negotiation
No one in Hawaii at the time had much experience with teacher bargaining. Yet with grace and great composure they took up their position and refused to be bullied into accepting things as they had always been.
Although the Association eventually won the representation race with HFT by a resounding margin, it took two separate ballots and brought the first HSTA negotiations team screeching up to meet the employer at the bargaining table with little time to spare.
In December 1971, the DOE still considered such items as duty-free lunch periods, scheduling of parent-teacher conferences, holiday and vacation schedules, work-year configuration and Teacher Institute Days to be specifically non-negotiable. HSTA negotiators knew what teachers wanted, needed, and they would not be swayed.
Finally, in October 1971, a legal impasse was declared and HSTA petitioned the Hawaii Public Employee Relations Board to assign a mediator. Despite all efforts, the impasse held fast into the Spring of 1972. Governor John A. Burns, who had enjoyed an era of relative peace with labor forces up to this point, was suddenly thrust into the center of a powerful, well-organized dispute with a determined adversary, Hawaii’s public school teachers.
For the Association membership, it was a heady time.
Teachers, who previously had no voice in the public arena, suddenly found their cause championed not only by an aggressive representative body but also by the sympathetic media.
Unfortunately, contract talks continued to stall until a strike vote was called on January 31, 1972. Teachers were tired of bargaining in good faith when the DOE appeared to be more than willing to do no more than come to the table and sit.
It was truly the antithesis of collective bargaining and the impetus that drove even the most reluctant teachers to agree that a strike was the last best option. After so many years of being taken for granted, teachers were fed up and ready to take action. Once they had a taste of the power of collective action, not even the Governor had the power to put the genie back in the bottle.
Hawaii’s first teachers strike was called for midnight February 17, 1972. Nothing short of direct intervention by the Governor could stop it. Left with no alternative, Gov. Burns personally sat with the Association’s Chief Negotiator John Dunlop and hammered out the language of the contract provision on preparation periods for teachers. Finally, at 5:45 a.m. on February 17, the walkout was averted.
Round One was over, but the fundamental clash between the Association and the employer was still far from being resolved.
Facing Goliath: Strike
With continuing and in some ways escalating friction with the DOE, a second strike vote was called in the Spring of 1973. It was fueled by two years of pent-up frustration over the lack of good faith implementation of the contract.
Despite clear evidence of the power and support teachers had in the community, the administration continued to stonewall all attempts at meaningful reform.
This time, nothing could be done to avert the walkout. Teachers had been backed into a corner and they came out swinging.
Schools remained closed for 18 days.
Association officials who were at the thick of things received death threats and hired bodyguards. Teachers agonized over the shutdown, knowing that the ultimate victims were the students. On the opposition side, there was a pervasive sense of paranoia. U.S. President Richard Nixon dispatched four generals from the Pentagon to monitor the situation and the FBI began photographing teachers on the picket line.
The community was wrenched by the strike and yet the media and parents remained staunch supporters of teachers and their cause. The question came down to whether teachers had struggled and sacrificed to come to this point only to be thrust right back to where they had started. The answer was clear - teachers believed the principle was well worth the sacrifice.
They put their faith in the Association and forged ahead. In the end, teachers found themselves doing things they had never imagined they would, but their efforts dramatically altered public perception of what the fledgling organization and its members were capable of. They had forced the State to take notice, at last.
Fighting the Feds: Wage Freezes
In 1973, teachers were faced with the prospect of a federal wage freeze that would limit public employee wage increases to 5.5 percent, including increments.
Apart from Hawaii’s own struggles, on the national front at about this time, officials for the Nixon administration, including the President himself, were wrestling with pressing economic concerns and an increasingly vocal challenge from organized labor. In 1973, teachers were faced with the prospect of a federal wage freeze that would limit public employee wage increases to 5.5 percent, including increments.
Given those parameters, the Internal Revenue Service declared that the recently ratified HSTA contract was in violation of the Federal Wage and Price Stabilization Board standards. It was a blow that the Association was not going to take sitting down.
HSTA moved decisively to address this dramatic development and sent representatives to testify before the Board. In collaboration with the one-million-member National Education Association, and with the aid of Congresswoman Patsy Mink, HSTA sent one of their brightest and surprisingly least experienced members to argue before the Board.
In his second year of teaching, “Probie” Jim Williams, a brash symbol of the Association’s remarkable balance between intelligence and passion, was selected to fight the unfair action. Not so surprisingly, Williams proved to be a winner. The Board heard his compelling testimony and voted to rescind the IRS’ violation decree. The strikers’ hard-fought victory held up against the challenge.
Despite the Association’s best efforts to develop a productive relationship with the employer in the mid-70s, the State continued to try to thwart the negotiation process. In 1975, negotiators attempted to eliminate teachers’ salary increments from the contract talks entirely. After Association representatives refused to bargain away this crucial contract element, the state legislature passed a law to legally eliminate them.
It was becoming abundantly clear by then that the employer would use this kind of end-run tactic with alarming regularity to achieve their goals away from the bargaining table. This contributed in no small part to the ensuing policy decision that HSTA should become a pro-active player in the political arena.
Professionalism and Education Reform
At this crucial juncture in Association history, the primary focus of teachers’ efforts turned from an all-out struggle for basic fair treatment to a much more global approach to improving education, starting with the problems at the roots.
The first major hurdle for HSTA was positioning Hawaii’s teachers as a cohesive pro-active force in the collective bargaining arena. Once they had successfully given voice to teachers’ fundamental concerns, the Association began generating a series of ever-widening circles of advocacy and action.
The first tumultuous years had passed. Throughout those early struggles, bit-by-bit, HSTA had gained enormous credibility and significant political power. The organization stabilized and began to focus on the health of the community as an important factor in teachers’ lives.
With Association staff working to cull teachers’ concerns and organize a solid response, teachers to addressed the issues of violence and vandalism in schools, drug abuse and even community-specific projects as the proposed H-Power garbage-to-energy plant planned for a site near Waipahu Elementary school.
Aside from political activism, the Association was also becoming increasingly involved in the professionalization of teaching. In 1975 the Association was still fighting to see that teachers were recognized for their full worth.
The American Heritage Dictionary defines professionalism as the demonstration of professional status, methods, character or standards. The Association began to pursue that distinction for teachers in earnest. One element of their plan was the introduction of recognized professional standards for teachers. They introduced a bill before the legislature that would make it a statutory standard. Despite all efforts though, the membership was wary of the innovation and eventually the bill was withdrawn.
Although the bill regarding professional standards was not successful, it opened the door for the Association to begin assembling a cohesive legislative agenda, beginning with the HSTA declaration of The War on Violence. Organized legislative action was the next logical step in the Association’s systematic and increasingly influential acquisition of political influence and the Association went after it.
New Legislative Avenues
The HSTA legislative agenda started out simply enough as a “map” of areas where the Association felt the interests of teachers should be directly represented.
What grew out of that initial effort was the statutory framework on education-related issues that we now know as Chapter 19 of the state’s Administrative Rules.
Now, through the Association, teachers have an established and respected voice in the public policy making process.
The Association’s legislative program went on to translate teacher concerns on such issues as violence and vandalism in schools into practical measures such as House Bill 491, which makes students liable for restitution of damages to school property as a result of vandalism. (An Association survey had previously revealed that, even in 1977, losses due to vandalism in Hawaii schools topped the $1 million mark annually.)
With this single effort, Hawaii’s teachers managed to place accountability at the feet of the people responsible for one of the most pervasive problems in our public school system today. This is just one example of the practical value of membership in the Hawaii State Teachers Association. HSTA gives each teacher’s single voice the weight of 13,000 others, all speaking in harmony.
Keeping the Fires Burning
Over time, HSTA expanded its efforts into many new areas where the Association could impact the status of teachers and students in Hawaii, both directly and indirectly.
Throughout this expansion though, the Association kept a watchful eye on the contractual agreement between teachers and the DOE. In 1976, a suspicious lack of grievances led the Association to mount a massive effort to canvas teachers on a one-on-one basis to measure their attitude toward and true understanding of the provisions of the contract.
In the largest project of its kind in the United States, a group of 1,000 teachers were trained as survey interviewers and together they gathered responses from more than 7,500 teachers, approximately 84 percent of all Hawaii teachers. Interestingly enough, one of the survey’s most compelling findings was that teachers truly believe in the grievance process as the only sure way to protect the rights of teachers and enforce the terms of the contract.
But contract issues were just a part of the whole picture.
Through membership, HSTA kept a finger on the pulse of teacher concerns, exploring in ever increasing range of interests and needs. In 1977, they began to challenge one of the silent after-effects of teachers’ long years of powerlessness, a profound lack of leadership and managerial skills among classroom teachers. The NEA had just instituted its Women’s Leadership Training Program and Hawaii jumped at the opportunity to join in. HSTA sent a group of teachers to participate in an intensive NEA seminar to prepare interested teachers to become trainers in the exciting new program.
The Association pursued the leadership program enthusiastically, seeing it as a constructive way to strengthen the leadership and management skills of women in teaching. Prior to this point, conventional wisdom generally held that it was neither practical nor necessary to provide teachers with leadership skills. The following year, the five members of the HSTA Women’s Leadership Training Cadre began conducting a series of 10-hour training seminars. Today, notable graduates of the Women’s Leadership Training Program include former Association presidents Sharon Mahoe and June Motokawa.
In practice, the value of empowering teachers as leaders became an advantage for Association members. Not only did it benefit the teachers themselves, it gave students, particularly female students, the opportunity to see many of their closest role models in the light of new confidence and new capabilities. Through the years, this program has continued to be one of the Association’s biggest “hits.” At last, teachers have been given the resources to realize their complete professional potential.
In addition to the start up of the Women’s Leadership program, 1978 also saw a massive push by the Association’s Political Action Committee. The committee initiated an endorsement program that put the full resources of the Association into researching candidate platforms and records and providing the membership with a fully informed position on each race. Once the endorsements were released, the committee organized hundreds of teachers to campaign for HSTA-endorsed candidates. The volunteers held signs, made telephone calls, canvassed and addressed campaign mailings to show their support for “education candidates” and their strong belief in the Association’s endorsement process.
In 1978, many of the Association’s strongest efforts shifted into high gear, with exciting results. The Violence and Vandalism project received a $30,000 grant from the federal Law Enforcement Assistance Administration and the U.S. Office of Education, along with a $5,000 grant from NEA. The primary grant provided for groups of teachers, counselors, students, parents and administrators and a Honolulu police officer to attend a two-week training program in California. The group went on to develop action plans to reduce violence and vandalism at their schools.
That year, the Association’s ongoing legislative lobbying effort yielded 166 new Special Education positions and 35 counseling positions, along with the development of a comprehensive job-sharing program. The job-sharing program brought teachers a decisive step closer to achieving sustainable balance between their professional and personal lives - with benefits for all.
Collaboration Sets the Stage
The 80s brought the Hawaii State Teachers Association into a whole new era of expectations, aspirations, and activity. Suddenly, there was time to consider the future and to begin acting on teachers’ dreams for how education should be ... instead of fighting a day in and day out battle simply to be heard.Throughout this expansion though, the Association kept a watchful eye on the contractual agreement between teachers and the DOE. In 1976, a suspicious lack of grievances led the Association to mount a massive effort to canvas teachers on a one-on-one basis to measure their attitude toward and true understanding of the provisions of the contract.
The 1980s dawned in Hawaii with a backlash against collective bargaining that saw the State House and Senate pass a number of general anti-labor bills.
Despite these setbacks however, the Association continued its lobbying efforts - remaining a stalwart watchdog of quality public education in Hawaii. For their efforts, they gained additional funding for textbooks, budget items that would fund asbestos removal in schools as well as an improvement in overall maintenance.
At the same time, the organization successfully opposed the imposition of additional certification requirements for teachers and a mandatory competency test for graduating seniors. The session showed that teachers were keeping an eye on the legislature and that they had the power to “make or break” legislation that affected the status of public education.
Ironically, the maturation of the Association, with all the attendant benefits and successes, was paralleled by the maturation of its founding membership. From 1984 - 1996, approximately 90 percent of the teachers employed by the Department of Education were brand new and, had it not been for the keen efforts of Association leadership, HSTA might have suffered a significant setback.
In the space of a single year, Hawaii’s teachers were transformed from a group of professionals who had successfully weathered the birth pangs of collective action together, to a group who had literally been students in the classrooms over which those first battles were fought. By and large, the pro-active culture of the 60s and 70s was gone and HSTA was faced with the task of finding a way to reawaken that spirit in a membership group that had never had to clean a restroom, monitor students at lunch hour or work in an asbestos-filled classroom.
As profoundly as the characteristics of the average HSTA member changed in the early 80s, so did the character of the Association’s relationship with the Department of Education. By the middle of the decade, there was a distinct thaw in relations between the two organizations. It was the dawning of a time of collaboration that would last more than 10 years.
Excellence Starts a New Decade
The new paradigm focused on creating an atmosphere of professional growth and development that would allow teachers to maximize the value of the education they were providing.
The many factors that changed the face of education in Hawaii in the 1980s also facilitated a dramatic transition in the Association’s role. The militancy and the need to fight for teachers rights that had driven the organization up to that point, was gradually being replaced by a compelling interest in the nature of education itself.
The new paradigm focused on creating an atmosphere of professional growth and development that would allow teachers to maximize the value of the education they were providing. HSTA began to concern itself more directly with the process of education, education issues, and schools themselves.
One of the first indications that the Association was moving to a new level of sophistication was the groundbreaking 1982 Hawaii Schools That Achieve document. The Excellence Document was the first publication that clearly defined teachers’ ideas of what was needed to achieve excellence in Hawaii public schools.
It was an eloquent departure from simply promoting the interests of teachers and it effectively repositioned the profession to work toward the broader goal of making public education better.
At the same time, teachers enjoyed a remarkable run of education-friendly legislative sessions. Some of the most forward- thinking education legislation in our state today grew out of this period.
Although it has since been disbanded, the federally-funded Teacher Center was created to give teachers a place to meet for discussion and to produce materials on education issues outside the schools. The Teacher Center was the first in a long line of significant cooperative efforts with the Department of Education.
Innovation and reform were hot topics in education during the 80s, as they are today. Yet change simply for its own sake hasn’t always been beneficial for teachers, or for students.
HSTA has always kept a finger on the pulse of change; doing the legwork, the research, the lobbying and the analysis to ensure that teachers are served by innovation, not run over by it.
HSTA support of School Community-Based Management (SCBM) is typical of the kind of intelligent in-depth representation teachers have always relied on with the Association.
Certainly, the concept of site-based management was an intriguing departure from the traditional educational decision making hierarchy, but HSTA was careful to temper their support with solid respect for teachers concerns about change and the potential challenges of the new process.
The Association ws the first in the state to embrace the concept and initiated an extensive training and feedback program to ensure that teachers would have the opportunity to ask questions, express concerns, and get concrete answers and support along the way to full implementation of SCBM.
The trend toward a proactive stance on education began to permeate not only the ranks of teachers, but also to some extent, the Department of Education itself. SCBM was just one of several reforms that emerged during the 80s. As this trend grew, the Association and its members responded decisively, not willing to be swept up in a current of change they began to plan a strategy for managing the wave of change. The strategic planning process was initiated in 1988 to give HSTA the power to harness the energy of reform and make it work for teachers.
Strtegic Maneuvers and Collaboration
Association officials faced the future, as it was defined in 1988, with as much vigor, vision and determination as those who confronted the challenges and obstacles of the tumultuous early days of HSTA.
The first Strategic Planning document, issued in 1988, defined both the mission statement and the strategic vision of the organization and its members. By establishing these cornerstones of HSTA philosophy, the Association brought the teachers perspective on the future of teaching and public education into sharp relief. With this clarity of vision fresh in their minds, the Association’s Strategic Planning Committee set about establishing a series of clearly definable manageable objectives.
Through it all, the face of HSTA membership continued to change. The thousands of teachers who had “grown up” professionally with HSTA and who understood the basic necessity of collective action were moving out of the education arena. In their place, a wave of new teachers with very different needs and interests infused the organization, bringing a whole range of new issues and concerns to the forefront of the Association’s agenda.
Ironically, it was the strike action taken by one of the other public worker unions, HGEA, that had the most profound impact on the process of re-culturing the ranks of new HSTA members with the basic message of collective action. This strike was the first time many of the Association’s current members had ever seen one up close.
It was an excellent training ground, offering insight and hard lessons on the cost and value of standing together for the greater good. The strike gave Association leadership an opportunity to instill knowledge and understanding of the strike environment - effectively cementing teachers’ appreciation of the process. Although it was not our battle the HGEA strike proved to be a powerful event in the history of HSTA.
Another pivotal moment for the Association occurred at about the same time. The 1993 Salary Compensation Task Force grew out of a one-time “gift” from the legislature that would give the Association an opportunity to completely change the structure of the teacher salary scale. This was the first time a performance-based salary schedule would be introduced in Hawaii, a concept that was against the positions of HSTA’s national parent, the National Education Association. Task force members added three additional performance-based salary levels into the traditional salary structure. The Senior Teacher level can be attained by presenting a portfolio of work. The Distinguished Teacher designation is earned through peer review. And all teachers obtaining an advanced degree will receive a pay differential to acknowledge their advancement.
A strong and genuine spirit of cooperation and collaboration between teachers and the employer continued then with the Labor Management Cooperative Committee. The committee was the first of its kind to focus attention away from the nature of the parties’ relationship and toward the real issues at the heart of education. The group formulated a code of conduct for students and went on to work on similar codes of conduct for teachers, principals and parents. In sharp contrast to the first 20 years of HSTA/DOE relations, the work of the committee proved that the two organizations had much to gain from working together.
Coming into Our Own
The raw force that Governor John Burns had faced was supplanted by the presence of a seasoned, savvy political operative, a person whose support was considered a worthy prize.
As an organization, HSTA really came into its own in the late 80s and early 90s. Leadership distanced itself from the necessary kill/kill mentality of the 1970s and focused instead on charting a path of honor, intelligent action and skillful use of power.
The first half of the 1990s was filled with signs that HSTA has achieved an enviable state of stability, strength and maturity. For the last five years, the Association has been able to concentrate a predominate part of its energy and resources on broad-based education issues. HSTA has been a front-line supporter of such innovations as site-based management, two-tiered bargaining and student-centered schools, while continuing to steadily oppose the undermining of public education by extremist groups, privatization, and vouchers, among other things.
The crowning achievement of a quarter century of HSTA history has been the development of the independent Teacher Standards Board. The Board establishes licensing standards and takes the power of determining the quality of Hawaii’s teaching work force out of the hands of the Department of Education. The Board has the power to penalize if the DOE hires sub-standard teachers acts as a gatekeeper to ensure the qualifications and preparedness of every teacher in the classroom.
With the creation of this Board, the Association has managed to advance two of its long-term goals. The Board serves the needs of teachers by ensuring an atmosphere of professional parity. And, by the same token, better-trained teachers are better equipped to provide a quality education for students.
Repeating the Past
Unfortunately, the halcyon days of cooperation and common goals with the DOE and the Legislature were not destined to continue. By 1994, the DOE was instituting some of the most regressive education policies since the early 1970s.
In two successive bargaining sessions, the employer presented bargaining packages that would eradicate much of the headway teachers made in recent years.
Additionally, the Statewide budget deficit had legislators looking at taking away some hard-earned benefits.
It all came to a head on April 5, 2001.
After two years of bargaining a new contract, the employer continued to stonewall. Their package included regressive measures and virtually no pay increases. It was clearly a matter of respect: teachers wanted it, the employer didn’t want to give it.
Having gone through similar bargaining just four years prior, teachers were unwilling to be complacent. A strike vote showed that 98% of Hawaii’s public school teachers would strike if it came to it. And it did.
Despite the Association’s best efforts to settle the contract, the employer forced the teachers out on strike for the second time in its history. Schools closed as more than 99% of teachers walked the picket lines day in and day out.
The 21-day strike, the longest strike ever in Hawaii, was an eye-opening experience for many teachers. The public, clearly siding with the teachers, opened their arms and took care of the teachers. Parents, students, and passersby brought food to striking teachers; Cars honked their support; and the media reports were of the courage shown daily by strikers.
In the end, teachers emerged victorious. The average teacher received more than 16% in pay raises, and improvements in working conditions that treated teachers like professionals rather than tall children.
But the celebration was to be short-lived. The employer would soon begin to renege on agreements, and the matter would be taken to the Hawaii Labor Relations Board. At issue was whether teachers with advanced degrees would receive the bargained differential for one or two years.
HLRB sided with the Association: teachers would receive the agreed-upon differential for one year, and the second year amount would be renegotiated. A good plan until the Department of Education spent the monies designated for the renegotiation.
HSTA members have seen it all. They’ve been treated like inconsequential pawns in a high stakes game of political power and government funding - and fought back to gain their voice and assert their identity and their own power.
They’ve been introduced to collective action - and seen it work virtual miracles in situations where the efforts of one individual would have gone unheeded. They’ve seen clearly what needed to be done to improve public education in Hawaii - and they’ve had the organization and will to do something about it. They’ve fought hard - and they’ve been winners.
Now, we cannot simply be satisfied that teachers, through HSTA, have been front-line soldiers in the war against ignorance, indifference and prejudice. We cannot become too comfortable in the knowledge that HSTA has been responsibly aggressive in the pursuit of high standards for education and the profession. We cannot become complacent because HSTA teachers have matured and grown professionally as an Association. The fact is, while we have accomplished a great deal so far, neither satisfaction, comfort nor complacency will carry us on to face the challenges of the future.
For HSTA it is about more than getting a better deal for teachers – it’s about putting teachers in the driver’s seat, where they would have a chance to make education better.