KAHULUI, MAUI (HawaiiNewsNow) - Pay raises awarded to hundreds of lifeguards and law enforcement officers statewide cleared a major hurdle on Wednesday.
The Maui County Council's Budget and Finance Committee finally approved the contract, after initially deferring action at a meeting in March.
An arbitration panel awarded the Hawaii Government Employees Association's new Bargaining Unit 14 a 16 percent payroll increase under a two-year contract.
"20 years ago, my salary was roughly on par with other first responders like the fire department. After two decades of neglecting water safety professional compensation, there is now a pay gap of up to 50 percent between comparable positions of lifeguards, fire and police," said Lt. John Hoogsteden of the Ocean Safety and Lifeguard Services Division.
Members include 331 ocean/water safety officers, 284 deputy sheriffs, 84 Division of Conservation and Resources Enforcement officers and 16 harbor enforcement officers.
"We handle the dregs of society walking into our cell block, from pedophiles to murderers to meth heads. We have our hands on them every day," said deputy sheriff Andrew Bayron.
The total projected impact of the contract on Maui County for fiscal year 2017, which starts July 1, is upwards of $1 million.
The counties pay for the lifeguards and the state funds the law enforcement positions.
"They really do deserve it, but we had no say in it. The system is dysfunctional. You have state guys dictating how we pay our county employees," said Don Guzman, vice chair of the Maui County Council.
Members expressed concerns about the cost of the contract, as well as the county councils' lack of representation in the collective bargaining and arbitration processes for all bargaining units. They also said that the counties deserve a bigger share of the Transient Accommodations Tax to help pay for these types of services.
"It's not fair. The county should not be here trying to figure out how do we pay our bills because a lot of this is associated with visitors," said council member Gladys Baisa.
The full council is expected to vote on the proposal on May 20.
The state Legislature and each county must fund the contract or else the parties must return to the bargaining table. Gov. David Ige, the Honolulu City Council, and the Hawaii County Council have already approved the agreement. Kauai County is still finalizing its funding.