Monthly Archives: February 2013

UH union board voted to cut NEA ties without discussing faculty opposition

The board of directors of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, the faculty union, voted to end its 39-year relationship with the National Education Association effective September 1 without discussing faculty opposition expressed in a straw-poll.

The directors narrowly split with 13 votes in favor of disaffiliation with the national organization, 10 opposed, with a single abstention. Apparently two board members were not present for the vote.

The board apparently disregarded relatively strong faculty support for continuing the affiliation with NEA. A straw-poll of faculty conducted by the board earlier this month found half of those voting (49.4%) said UPHA should continue its NEA affiliation, while just over a third (35.4%) supported cutting its national ties. The remaining 15.3% expressed no preference.

Over 40 percent of all faculty across the UH system voted, the second-highest response rate for any internal poll UHPA.

According to an email to faculty from UHPA President Adrienne Valdez following the disaffiliation vote, board proceeded to a vote on the issue without discussion of the straw poll results or feedback from a February 9 “Faculty Forum,” which brings together faculty representatives from all campuses.

According to a summary statement favoring cutting ties to NEA, which was distributed prior to the Faculty Forum, disaffiliation has been pressed by the union’s longtime executive director, J.N. Musto, with one central issue–money.

UHPA paid $680,831.34 in dues to NEA during the 2011-2012 fiscal year, according to this statement.

We are uncomfortable taking money from our bargaining unit that cannot be directly tied to our purpose as a public sector union in the state of Hawai‘i. We believe that emerging challenges here at home have a stronger claim on our resources. Retirement and medical benefits are under attack. This is very much a local issue, requiring local expertise and local relationships, and UHPA has proved its effectiveness in the realm of local politics. As we have seen from recent events with our sister union, and NEA state affiliate, the Hawaii State Teachers Association, there is no substitution for local expertise, especially when it comes to collective bargaining. Affiliation with the NEA is not necessary for UHPA to effectively carry out its responsibilities as the exclusive representative of the UH faculty. This is what our mission requires. This is where our attention and resources should be focused.

In other words, our money should stay here. Why should we pay to maintain a national organization?

Those supporting continued ties to the NEA saw the situation very differently.

We firmly believe that disaffiliating from NEA and becoming an independent union is not the right course for UHPA. Being independent demonstrates the opposite of what unions are all about – collective action, standing together in solidarity and being part of the national movement speaking on behalf of organized labor, especially the education sector. There is never a right time to be an independent union. That is especially true now, with public sector unions being the target of so many state governments. It would be a huge mistake to insulate ourselves and go it alone.

There are strong, strategic, well organized and well-funded forces working against unions and we are not immune to their impact. Unions in Wisconsin and Michigan have both suffered crippling setbacks in their ability to represent their members. If it can happen in other strong union states, it can happen here.

NEA supporters ticked off a list of faculty benefits provided by the national union, ranging from several types of insurance to leadership development and ongoing access to the NEA national network for consultation and advice.

They also highlighted the larger political context.

UHPA sets aside $60/member annually for local political activities and endorsements because it is so crucial that UHPA be engaged in the Hawaii political arena. The same is true at the national level. UHPA’s voice needs to be part of the national conversation. Our affiliation with the NEA is the key for making that happen.

NEA provides vigorous and comprehensive lobbying at the federal level to protect worker rights, Social Security, Medicare, access to healthcare, and advocate for legislation that supports and protects public education, including higher education. These intangible benefits in the legislative arena directly impact us in Hawaii. NEA fights these battles on our behalf every day on Capitol Hill. While we have access to the Hawaii congressional delegation, NEA lobbies all 50 congressional delegations.

The position paper opposing disaffiliation (i.e., supporting continued ties to NEA) included three current UHPA officers (President Valdez, Treasurer Catherine Bye, Secretary Brent Sipes, and two other members of the UPHA executive committee, Sally Pestana and Martha Crosby. Former UHPA officers Paulette Feeney and Dennis Vanairsdale also took part in preparing the statement.

Authors of the anti-NEA position were not identified.

Other factors besides money also appear to have been involved.

First, UHPA leaders have long been unhappy that they play second-fiddle to the Hawaii State Teachers Association, which is the primary NEA affiliate in Hawaii.

This problem has been exacerbated in recent years by a series of clashes between UHPA and HSTA. Back in mid-2011, for example, an UHPA email to its membership, it “accused HSTA leaders of taking ‘ignoring the consequences of their actions’ by taking legal actions that ‘jeopardize the rights of all public sector unions, including the right to strike.’”

The charges stemmed from the approach taken by HSTA during a challenge to state bargaining tactics being heard by the Hawaii Labor Relations Board.

Here’s what I wrote at the time:

UHPA’s request to intervene in the proceedings before the Hawaii Labor Relations Board “to preserve the right to strike” was approved over HSTA’s objections. HSTA also tried to bar HGEA’s legal counsel from taking part in the proceedings, according to UHPA.

HSTA’s actions have “alienated virtually everyone who has a relationship with HSTA,” UHPA charged. The UH union said HSTA has subpoenaed more than 88 individuals, including representatives of UHPA, HGEA, and UPW, in order to question them about an alleged “conspiracy.”

“The notion of a conspiracy is an insult,” UHPA said.

Later, I noted the link between the HSTA-UHPA dispute and HSTA’s attempt to obtain special health benefits for its members, and some of the questionable history surrounding the issue (“UHPA again highlights challenge to HSTA, health benefits controversy“).

UHPA has also clashed with HSTA and NEA over political endorsements. Last year, in the most high profile example, UHPA endorsed Ed Case in the Democratic Primary for U.S. Senate, while HSTA/NEA backed then-Rep. Mazie Hirono.

Documents provided to members relating to the issue of NEA affiliation shows UHPA formally complained about the NEA’s endorsement decisions. The NEA quickly responded by changing its endorsement process to add a mechanism for dealing with disagreements between local affiliates.

A final factor may be undue deference by board members to staff recommendations and pressure, in this case the push to disaffiliate. This is hinted at by President Valdez in an October 2012 memo to the UHPA board. After citing several key benefits of NEA affiliation, Valdez called attention to the Senate hearings investigating the Stevie Wonder concert fiasco at UH.

Valdez said “one of my most important take aways” from the hours of testimony was criticism of the Board of Regents for relying too heavily on the advice of “UH General Council, outside attorneys and UH administrators,” and failing to step up to challenge decisions that appeared contrary to policy or just didn’t seem right.

Valdez wrote:

The reason the Regents’ testimony made such an impact on me was that their answers validated that the way we run our UHPA Board meetings is correct and necessary. Of course we also seek counsel and opinions from our attorneys and professional staff, but then we as a Board are responsible for understanding the issues and making the decisions. It was painful to hear the Regents on multiple occasions have to answer “Legal Counsel said it was okay” or Legal Council told me to” when Senator Kim asked how they had arrived at a certain decision.

A veiled reference, I would think, to the board’s perceived deference to “advice” from UHPA’s outside counsel, Tony Gill, and its professional staff, including Musto. I could be reading too much into this comment but, from past experience, I think not.

In any case, a list of college and university faculty groups affiliated with the NEA is available online. You can strike UH from the list.

Maui’s Keawakapu Beach a decade before the start of Wailea

[text]Just when I think that we’ve located all the old photos in my parents’ home, along come some more. Yesterday my sister handed me an old shoe box with a jumble of things inside. Lens caps to long lost cameras. Empty Kodak 35mm film cans. Empty slide boxes. Then some gems. A few stacks of loose slides held in place by disintegrating rubber bands, along with several boxes as they would have been returned after being developed. Most of the slides carefully labeled in my mother’s careful handwriting. They were mixed up, products of several different trips to neighbor islands.

In a quick look yesterday afternoon, I pulled out a handful images from a family vacation Maui in mid-August 1960, several days on either side of my birthday, which falls on the 17th. These slides are 53 years old, and show their age. But the images still capture that earlier point of island history.

These were taken in the area of South Maui now site of the sprawling resorts and condominiums stretching from Wailea towards Makena. At that time, though, South Kihei Road was the end of the line. Beyond, towards Makena, it was pretty much a desert.

There are several photos of the Henry Baldwin home on Keawakapu Beach, and views from the beach, now in the middle of the Wailea resort area.

Wailea wasn’t conceived by the folks at Alexander and Baldwin for more than another decade.

One personal treasure–a photo at the Baldwin house in which I’m holding a large, orange cat. I was just turning 13 at the time. I don’t remember the incident or the cat, but it’s my earliest recorded feline interaction. Perhaps it had an effect?

–> See all of these photos of Keawakapu Beach in 1960

Death is just the beginning

No, I’m not talking about spiritual continuity after this life is over. I’m talking about the bureaucratic tasks that remain for those the departed leave behind. It’s the front end of that bureaucratic mess that I’m bogged down in now.

Even when someone has done extensive preparations, as my mother did before her death last month, there’s still a lot to do.

It starts right after someone dies. Within hours, the mortuary wants to settle on desired “arrangements” and get their check. That’s the first step. In my mom’s case, this was relatively simple. Cremation. Immediate. That is, no “viewing” necessary prior to cremation. Container? In her case, a simple cardboard box which delivered her to the crematorium. Apparently the body can’t go in without the box. What urn? Again, a simple container. Her remains will stay there until later in the spring when we’ll scatter them out near the Diamond Head buoy in the same area where we spread her brother quite a few years ago now. It’s what she wanted, so that’s what we’re doing.

The mortuary also triggers two other important bits. First, there’s the obituary. A simple, brief death announcement is free. Just the basic facts. If you want more, something that really says something real about the person who has died, you’re at the mercy of the newspaper monopoly. We stayed with the freebie. The rest appeared here, and on my sister’s blog.

Second, and more important, the mortuary files paperwork for the death certificate, the official one-page document from the State Department of Health that proves one is really dead. As we have discovered, you need this in order to deal with the basics. The process stalls until the death certificates are ready. And, we were warned, DOH takes several weeks to deliver them. The warnings were correct. It took several weeks.

The certificates are needed for just about everything. Social Security was about the only place that didn’t require a death certificate. I telephoned to inform them of my mother’s passing. They took the information, expressed condolences, and contacted Bank of Hawaii to retrieve the most recent payment that had been auto deposited.

However, every one else seems to need a death certificate. The state’s employee retirement system, banks, investment accounts, etc., all need the documentation.

So my mother’s trust attorney, who we are relying on to guide us through the process of settling her estate, advised us to delay our initial consultation until the DOH delivered the certificates. No use spinning our wheels without that essential document.

They finally came in last week and our appointment is on Friday. I’ve got the “inventory” forms and am trying to reconstruct my mother’s finances. Checking accounts. Savings accounts. Certificates of Deposit. Stocks, some in investment accounts, some held individually. A lot in a few places. A few dollars in others. But they have to be located. Other assets. A seven year old car. Furniture. A mountain of genealogical research. A little jewelry, most of the costume variety. Real property? Just the house. All complicated by the fact that she had been slowly consolidating, while her careful filing of records didn’t keep up. I just can’t pin down the status of some accounts. We’ll have to rely on the banks to search their records to confirm the accounts. Trust your banker. Not much else you can do.

Hopefully I’ll have it all together by Friday and ready for the lawyer, who will hopefully then prepare the documentation we need to begin closing accounts and collecting all the various assets for eventually distribution according to my mom’s wishes.

Somewhere along the way, I’ll have to prepare her 2012 taxes. And then figure out about the taxes covering the 29 days of 2013 before her death. Yes, that thing about death and taxes? It appears that the tax part goes on after the death part.

Meanwhile, there’s the ongoing process of clearing out her house. My sister, Bonnie, is taking the lead as she’s been living in my parents house for most of the past five years, providing hands-on care as they reached the end. It’s a process of discovery. What’s in this box/closet/drawer/etc? File, as appropriate, in one of several categories: trash…thrift store…garage sale…appraise…family heirloom…help, further review needed. It’s likely to be a long, convoluted process.

I wasn’t being flippant in suggesting that dying is a lot of work for the living. That’s just the way it is.

Media stuff: Star-Advertiser contract, Pacific Media Workers, blog economics

I was wandering the web and stumbled across a copy of the Star-Advertiser’s current contract with the newspaper guild that runs through August 2016. Guild members are now represented by the Pacific Media Workers Guild (TNG-CWA Local 39521), based in San Francisco.

Since the Hawaii Newspaper Guild was merged with the Pacific Media Workers Guild, there’s no public reporting of the number of guild members at individual newspapers or the total number in the state.

Previously, the Hawaii Newspaper Guild filed a separate LM-2 report with the U.S. Department of Labor itemizing the number of members at each of the newspapers where it had contracts.

Now, however, Guild members in Hawaii are somewhere among the 1,354 members of the combined multi-state local reported in the union’s latest LM-2 report. Search for File # 36746 in the Department of Labor’s Online Public Disclosure Room.

Meanwhile, the Seattle Times is joining the ranks of newspapers erecting pay walls. According to a column over the weekend by executive editor David Boardman, the pay wall will go up in mid-March.

The reasons for this development are simple: The economics of the news business, and of the newspaper industry in particular, have changed dramatically over the past decade. More people than ever are reading our content in print and digital formats, but our primary source of revenue — advertising — is declining locally and nationally and no longer supports our costs to the degree it once did.

Since its launch in 1996, access to has been free. We have charged our readers only for distribution of the printed newspaper, and at a price that only partially covered the costs of the ink, paper, trucks and carriers.

The expenses of the newsroom — reporters, editors, photographers, columnists, graphic artists, page designers, researchers, bloggers, digital producers — and of all of the supporting departments necessary to operate this place (Finance, Human Resources, Information Technology, etc.), were covered by advertising revenue.

The math no longer adds up. We need to evolve in the way we do business, just as we have in the way we deliver our content to you.

If you happen to blog or aspire to your own blog, or perhaps if publishing economics just interests you, check out the recent podcast of NPR’s Planet Money, “Can Andrew Sullivan Make It On His Own?

It’s pretty sobering.