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Hawaii Teachers Go on Strike

April 6, 2001

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HONOLULU (AP) _ Jackie Thuener says she doesn’t make enough money as a high school biology teacher, so she’s been spending afternoons working at a kennel.

Now the kennel job is all she has. Strikes by 13,000 public school teachers and 3,100 state university faculty members have shut down Hawaii’s public education system in what is believed to be the first labor actions to paralyze an entire state’s public education system.

About 180,000 public school children and 42,000 University of Hawaii students are out of school because of the strike.

Thuener’s long hours at McKinley High School in Honolulu and her part-time job caring for dogs leave her little time at home with her 9-year-old son.

``When your little child tells you, `Mommy, why can’t you spend more time with me?′ what can you say?″ she said.

But Thuener and other public school teachers on the islands said they have no choice but to take a second job to make ends meet.

``All teachers I know have some other source of income. You cannot live on a teacher’s salary here,″ she said.

Hawaii teachers’ salaries, which average about $40,400, are 18th in the nation in terms of average salary but come in last when that salary is adjusted for cost of living, according to figures from the American Federation of Teachers.

``Hawaii is worse off in the way that their salaries have not kept up,″ said Kathleen Lyons, spokeswoman for 2.6 million-member NEA, the national parent of the Hawaii teachers union. ``It’s the most expensive place to live in the United States yet their salaries don’t reflect that.″

The Hawaii State Teachers Association was seeking raises totaling 22 percent over four years, retroactive to July 1999. The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly, which represents faculty members at 10 campuses, was seeking raises of 13 percent over two years.

Both unions called the coinciding strike dates unintended. The walkouts began after negotiations with the state broke down Wednesday. Classes were called off Thursday and Friday, and no new negotiations were scheduled.

``It’s a do-or-die, now-or-never situation,″ said Holly Soria, a Spanish teacher in Honolulu.

Gov. Ben Cayetano said the teachers union rejected the state’s offer of pay raises totaling 14 percent over two years, while the faculty union rejected the state’s offer of an 11 percent increase.

``This is a day no one in the state wanted to see, and a day we tried very hard to avoid,″ Cayetano said.

The shutdown of Hawaii’s public school system sent students to beaches and malls while teachers and faculty members took to picket lines on six islands.

``I want them to get paid, but I also like the vacation,″ said Jimmy Tsai, an eighth-grader who spent the day skateboarding.

The last Hawaiian public school teachers strike was in 1973 and lasted 19 days. University professors staged a two-day walkout in 1983.

Soria said several of her colleagues have left the profession for higher-paying teaching careers on the mainland. But moving is something she won’t consider.

``I love it here. I love the people. I love the kids. I love the culture. And I love to share my life experiences with the kids here,″ she said.

Thuener was handed a paycheck while picketing Thursday, and she doesn’t know when the next payday will be.

``I live paycheck to paycheck, so this one’s real valuable,″ she said.


On the Net:

State government sites on strike: http://www.hawaiistrike.com

State Department of Education: http://doe.k12.hi.us

Hawaii State Teachers Association: http://www.hsta.org

AFT rankings: http://www.aft.org//research/