Hawaii teachers at a solidarity meeting. (Associated Press)

A growing number of public school teachers in Hawaii who are sick of working under a forced contract are staging protests in which they work only mandated hours — from 8 a.m. to 3 p.m. and not a minute more — on specific days. On an assembly line, working only required hours without overtime is expected, but teachers routinely work many more than their required hours without compensation.

The “work to the rules” protests started at at Campbell High School in Ewa Beach, the state’s largest public school, and have spread around the state to more than 10 other schools where teachers have agreed to participate or are in the organizing stage. The first protest was last week and the next is planned for Nov. 29.

Hawaii public school teachers have been working for more than a year without a negotiated contract. One was imposed on them in July 2011 by Gov. Neil Abercrombie, which reduced wages and raised health insurance premiums (which the Honolulu Civil Beat said was the same thing that other public employee unions had agreed to).  It was the first time in the state’s history that a labor contract was imposed on a union.

Here’s what one teacher told me the protesters want: “a contract that ensures an end to teacher-furlough days, one that restores our pay, one that restores our health benefits, one that doesn’t tie potential pay increases (whenever the heck thaaat might ever happen!) to student test scores, one that protects teachers’ names and “scores” from showing up in the national media (as happened to teachers in New York City), and on and on and on and on.”

The union and the governor’s administration have negotiated without success; a mediator was brought in to help reach an agreement but that effort failed too. Negotiations continue.

Last year the union brought an unfair labor practice complaint against the state government with the state’s Labor Relations Board, but the panel didn’t act. Now the union has asked the state Supreme Court to order a ruling. Hawaii teachers cannot call a strike until a decision is made by the labor relations board.

Here’s how the “Hawaii Teachers Work To The Rules” Facebook Page describes the protest:

What is work to the rule?

Contractually teachers are only required to work from 8 am-3:00 pm. Most teachers work well beyond those hours including tutoring, advising, coaching, attending meetings, leading clubs, proms, graduations, IEPs, lesson planning, grading and the list goes on. In a work to the rule, all these activities would stop at 3:00 pm. Teachers would only work the required hours and no more. Only in education are you expected to work extra hours with no compensation.


Wouldn’t the education of our students suffer?

By our very nature teachers are kind and generous people; that is why we became teachers. The Governor is using our generosity against us by basically saying the state does not need to bargain with teachers for fair pay since teachers will not strike. The Governor insists that the state cannot afford to pay teachers fairly, yet HPD and HFD have taken no pay cuts, and UHPA is actually getting a pay raise. The governor has implemented two contracts against our union’s wishes and if things don’t change he will implement a third. In the long run this work to the rule protest is better for our schools and our students; good teachers are leaving and the morale of teachers is being depleted due to the lack of respect and the lack of fair compensation.


Why do we need a work to the rule protest?

In the Governor’s latest proposal, he proposed to restore teachers’ pay to the 2007 level. But this does not account for the increased share in health care cost from a 60/40 to 50/50 split. This means teachers will see a 2-3% decrease in pay, even though state revenues have increased. Lastly new hires will have eight days less of medical leave, which particularly impacts teachers who need family leave.


If we have a work to the rule protest do we still get paid?

Yes. As teachers we are still coming to school, but only from 8:00-3:00. We are still doing our professional duty.


Will we get into trouble for doing this? Will the administration punish teachers involved?

We are not breaking any rules; we will follow the contract to the letter. In the 2001 strike, principals were very supportive by giving out food and water to the teachers. As former teachers themselves, they too want to see teachers respected and paid fairly.


Is this just the first step of a strike? I can’t afford to go on strike.

No. In many ways a work to the rule protest is better than a strike. A strike is the last card and once we go on strike the Governor gets to decide whether or not to negotiate. With a work to the rule protest, we decide. And since a work to rule protest doesn’t affect our pay, all teachers can afford to participate. A greater participation shows a greater unity of our union. Lastly, in a work to the rule protest, since schools are still open, parents and students will have to come face to face with their teachers on protest every day. This will raise public awareness and put pressure on the Governor to give teachers a fair contract.


What will we have to do?

First, teachers will be asked to stop all before and after school activities; we walk in at 7:45 and we walk out at 3 (This needs to depend on your own bell schedule). Second, teachers will also be asked to protest in front of the school before and after school. Lastly, teachers should encourage parents, students and community to support teachers in getting a fair contract.