Vote of Confidence

From the UH Matters blog.There was something unsettling about the smiling image of Governor Neil Abercrombie, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly (UHPA) Executive Director J. N. Musto and recently appointed University of Hawaii (UH) President David Lassner at a press conference announcing an “unprecedented”[1] two-year contract agreement for the university faculty union. At the press conference, each took turns patting each other on the back as if people would not believe the two-year agreement was a good thing.

Rather than rehashing the facts, I would rather direct you to one of these news sources:[2]

Honolulu Star-Advertiser | Hawaii News Now | KHON | Civil Beat

— or one of these blog sources:

Political Radar | UH Matters

To place this event into context, the UH faculty union is currently in year five of their six year contract. To the ire of the Legislature[3], UHPA negotiators secured their current contract in the waning days of the Lingle administration. Their prior six-year contract was also signed by then Governor Linda Lingle, who was endorsed by UHPA both in 2002[4] and in 2006[5].

Flash forward to 2013, where embattled incumbent Neil Abercrombie desperately needs any support he can muster against Democratic challenger David Ige. The pattern shows that each of the three labor contracts executed by UHPA were preceded by an electoral endorsement of the approving executive. Star-Advertiser columnist Richard Borecca irreverently wrote:

Welcome to the christening of a new canoe. If you are a University of Hawaii professor, please step in. If you don’t belong to UHPA, this is not your canoe. Even if you are a state worker and despite what Gov. Neil Abercrombie says about everyone being in the same canoe, you are definitely not in this canoe. This is the pay-raise canoe. The other canoe for public employees is the pay-cut canoe — climb in and try not to splash on the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly members’ canoe.[6][7]

While this is relevant to this week’s events, Borecca wrote the paragraph above in 2011. True to form, UHPA swooped in to throw their support behind the unpopular governor, stating, “He has been in our shoes so he understands our issues. He’s gotten us through the recent rough times and we know he’ll continue to lay the educational foundation for Hawaii’s future generations to prosper.”[8] Three months and one labor contract later, Abercrombie brazenly commented:

“If someone wants to bring politics up, let me put it this way: I believe best politics is always good politics. If you do good things for good people, you know, in a good faith way, which speaks for itself. I believe the politics of this agreement will ring across the state as, ‘This is the way it should be done.’”[9]

Can Abercrombie, therefore be expected to renegotiate all public employee contracts “in a good faith way” because “this is the way it should be done”? In this game of quid pro quo, it is clear what Abercrombie has gained but what specifically has UHPA gained? Answering this requires one to wade dangerously into the waters of speculation – so please treat subsequent paragraphs as such. Please consider the following:

  • As part of the Legislature, David Ige would not fund UHPA pay raises out of the state budget.
  • Other gubernatorial challengers (Hanneman and Aiona), who are also considerably more fiscally conservative than Abercrombie, would not be receptive to the maneuvers of UHPA.
  • The two-year extension announced by UHPA would secure faculty benefits and salaries through 2017, one year before the next gubernatorial election.

UHPA has opportunistically renegotiated their contract to ensure that they are covered regardless of an Abercrombie win or loss. By the same logical extension, UHPA does not believe that Abercrombie will succeed in his gubernatorial bid. If they were truly confident in the embattled incumbent’s election prospects, they would have waited a year to secure a four- or six-year contract upon Abercrombie’s reelection rather than settling for a two-year contract.

Given the choice of the two scenarios, quid pro quo is a scenario that is much more plausible when compared against the fairy tale that Abercrombie concocted. It does not take a university professor to figure that out.


[1] When one looks at UHPAs shrewd history of contract negotiations, this agreement is not surprising after all.

[2] At the time of writing, no report could be found on KITV regarding this topic.

[3] It is unclear whether the Legislature will choose to honor this agreement. The Legislature frowns upon executives who appropriate collective bargaining contracts that extend beyond their tenure. Prior to this, the Legislature refused to budget tax revenue to fund the previous pay increase for the faculty union.

[4] Honolulu Star Bulletin, UHPA endorses Lingle; HGEA will back Hirono, Oct 7, 2002,


[5] University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, 2009-2015 Agreement,


[6] Richard Borecca, Honolulu Star-Advertiser, UH professors get to ride in pay-raise canoe,

[7] While other public employee unions agreed to a 5% salary reduction during the Great Recession to ensure that government could remain fiscally solvent, UHPA took no pay cut. Under their contract, UHPA members received 3% less than their normal salaries for two years, only for that same 3% to be paid back in the following years. Other public employee unions were never paid back the 5% reduction that they accepted.

[8] KHON, UH Faculty Union Backs Abercrombie for re-election,

[9] Political Radar, Derrick DePledge, June 27th, 2014, ‘That shows what a good job I am doing’,