UH faculty union deciding whether breakup with NEA is final - Hawaii News Now - KGMB and KHNL

UH faculty union deciding whether breakup with NEA is final

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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) -

The University of Hawaii faculty union board will vote Saturday whether to delay its planned departure from the nation's largest union, the National Education Association, ending a nearly 40-year affiliation. 

The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly's 24-member board will vote on whether to put off its Sept. 1 disaffiliation from the NEA until there is a binding vote of UHPA's 4,000 members. 

"We've been lied to.  We've been called all sorts of wonderful names.  We're faculty but we're not doormats," said UHPA President David Duffy, a botany professor at UH Manoa for 12 years.    

The union took out a full-page ad in Friday's Honolulu Star-Advertiser newspaper addressed to the head of the National Education Association that said "We'd like to thank you for trying to destroy our union."  

"The NEA is harassing and attacking" UHPA members, and "inciting people with lies and falsehoods," said Kapiolani Community College philosophy professor Sharon Rowe, who serves as UHPA vice president. At least five NEA organizers have come to Hawaii to push its cause, UHPA officials said.

In February, UHPA's executive board voted 13 to 10 to disaffiliate from the NEA, which has about 3 million members. The majority of the NEA's members are kindergarten through 12th grade teachers, with about 215,000 members who are faculty and staff at private and public universities, NEA officials said. 

"They're very good for K to 12.  But higher ed is sort of an afterthought to them.  And we're not an afterthought," Duffy said. 

But faculty members who want to stay in the NEA said union leaders here ignored results of a straw poll of UH faculty. 

"The majority were clearly in favor of staying with the NEA.  And so that was just disregarded," said Paulette Feeney, a UH Manoa faculty member for 20 years. 

"I'm with them because I believe that they're our voice on Capitol Hill.  Without NEA, who's representing Hawaii on Capitol Hill?" Feeney said. 

But local union leaders said the big national union just wants their nearly $700,000 in annual dues, with little benefit to Hawaii university faculty. 

"What any board has to look at is a fiduciary responsibility.  Are we getting value for the nearly $700,000 that we are sending to them and the conclusion that most of us came to on the board was no, we're not," said UH Public Health Professor Bob Cooney, UHPA's treasurer. 

In a statement, NEA President Dennis Van Roekel said, "The more than 3-million members of NEA urge the UHPA board to let Hawaiian educators' voices be heard-and let the full UHPA membership vote on whether to disaffiliate from NEA." 

"The privatization, anti-union, anti-public worker forces are operating nationwide. They are highly organized, well-funded, and more than ever, we stand stronger united than going it alone," Van Roekel added. 

"We seek allies whenever we can find them.  But we don't want Washington calling the shots," Duffy said. "And we think the best thing for our members is to keep the money here and use it." 

"Where has been the effectiveness of the NEA on behalf of higher education across the country and in Hawaii in particular in the past 20 years.  I don't see any evidence of it," Rowe said. 

But Feeney, the UH faculty member who supports staying in the NEA said, "The NEA has clout and we're in essence saying "OK.  You do your thing, we don't need you.  We know that you'll take care of us.  So how is that fair?" 

An NEA representative said the national union represents faculty at public universities in California, New York and Florida. 

UHPA representatives said between 2002 and 2009, the NEA returned an average of 40 percent of its annual dues to the Hawaii affiliate in legal fees, staff salaries, grants and special services. 

The NEA said it provided funding during UHPA's last strike in 2001, but UHPA leaders said even with financial assistance during the strike, UHPA members still sent more money to NEA that year than NEA returned to UHPA. 

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