HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - The president of the Hawaii State Teachers Association announced to teachers late Thursday that the union and the state have received approval from the Hawaii Labor Relations Board to go to mediation.
The announcement came at a rally at the State Capitol that drew thousands of teachers and their supporters. They turned the Diamond Head lawn of the capitol into a sea of red.
According to the HSTA, there were up to 5,000 teachers and supporters, including 24 busloads of teachers from all over Oahu. The teachers said they expected the big turnout.
"We are not surprised because we are all here to fight for the cause," said Jasmine Doolin, a teacher at Pearl Harbor Kai Elementary School. "We want a new contract because we love our kids, we love what we do, and we just want a fair and equitable contract. Something that reflects all the heart and dedication that goes into our profession."
Many others expressed frustration at the lack of a new contract.
"Absolutely," said 26-year teaching veteran Rowena Murphy of Campbell High School. "We need our governor's support."
The teacher's union represents more than 13,500 teachers who have been operating on an imposed contract after turning down the state's last offer.
"We've been working without a contract for so long," said fellow Campbell High teacher Troy Sueoka. "We just want to get the respect we deserve, you know? And we want to send a message to the governor that we mean business and we're here for our students."
"We've been working for less wages than we made five years ago, so we just want a fair contract with the governor," said Washington Middle School teacher Eric Smith. "We want him to settle the contract now."
The new contract is supposed to take July 1, in time for the next school year. Union president Wil Okabe said he's looking forward to mediation to reach a new agreement. "On Monday we are going to go into mediation with the state, and we're going to talk about everything," he said.
Okabe added that one of the big issues still remaining is teacher evaluations.
The governor's press secretary, Louise Kim McCoy, issued a statement, saying, "We are encouraged that the Hawaii Labor Relations Board has approved the mediation. The Governor, together with the Department of Education, the Board of Education and state representatives, remain hopeful and look forward to a positive resolution."
When asked, Okabe said he is not ready to say that teachers will strike. "Well, definitely that is an option, but we're not at that stage right now," he said. "We're very hopeful that we will be able to negotiate a contract for our teachers."
"We are hopeful," said Doolin. "We don't want things to get any worse. So we're just out here to just take a stand."