Both Sides Must Make Concessions

The most disturbing event of 2012 was the inability of the Hawaii State Teachers Association and the Abercrombie administration to settle their differences and ratify a new contract.

It’s been two years and a lot of posturing since the teachers have had any success at the bargaining table. They have been shut out by the governor’s negotiators, the courts and the Legislature. They haven’t been able to get a straight answer from anyone.

The big question now is: What kind of offer should be made by either side that will suggest a more-cooperative stance? There is strong and convincing evidence that making the first offer is advantageous to the negotiator making the offer. In many cases it appears that “first offers” can haunt a negotiation. HSTA was given a “last best offer” by management, and it topped that with a “take it or leave it” mandate. Studies indicate that those who present exaggerated opening offers get higher settlements. Said another way, the two sides in this dispute have never been on the same page.

If you sift through all the exaggerations, what surfaces are the priorities of both sides. The teacher-evaluation plan program is the major stumbling block – and for good reason. Teachers don’t want to be graded by students, or by individuals who have never been in their classroom. The state doesn’t want to reward poor results in the classroom.

So what we appear to be witnessing is that the exaggerated opening offer by management has been summarily rejected by the teachers. It has succeeded in prematurely halting negotiations. Probably more harmful is it communicates an attitude of toughness that may be damaging to long-term relations.

Hopefully, teachers and the governor will come to agreement quickly in 2013 so educating students takes priority over petty politics.

Both sides need to find a way to abandon their committed positions and plan a way out.