Hawaii Collective Bargaining Law

views updated

Hawaii Collective Bargaining Law

United States 1970


Unionization of the public employees of Hawaii reached its peak in the early 1970s with the passage of the state's collective bargaining law for public employees. In 1970, when the Hawaii state legislature enacted the Hawaii Public Employment Relations Act, the state of Hawaii became the first of the United States to allow its public employees the right to strike. At that time, the state and county public employees were among the lowest paid and least stable workers; their employment and wages were generally at the mercy of politics. Eventually, however, they were granted the right to bargain collectively for contracts and to file grievances as do private sector workers.


  • 1950: North Korean troops pour into South Korea, starting the Korean War.
  • 1955: The Warsaw Pact is signed by the Soviet Union and its satellites in eastern Europe.
  • 1959: Alaska and Hawaii are added to the Union.
  • 1965: Rev. Martin Luther King, Jr., and more than 2,600 others are arrested in Selma, Alabama. Three weeks later, in New York City, Malcolm X is assassinated.
  • 1967: Arabs attack Israel, launching the Six-Day War, which results in an Israeli victory.
  • 1970: After 32 months of civil war in Nigeria, Biafran secessionists surrender in January.
  • 1970: Nixon sends U.S. troops into Cambodia on 30 April. Four days later, National Guardsmen open fire on antiwar protesters at Kent State University in Ohio. By 24 June antiwar sentiment is so strong that the Senate repeals the Gulf of Tonkin resolution. On 29 June, Nixon orders troops back out of Cambodia.
  • 1970: Gamal Abdel Nasser, father of Arab nationalism and mentor of younger leaders such as Libya's Muammar al-Qaddafi, dies.
  • 1973: Signing of peace accords in Paris in January ends the Vietnam War.
  • 1975: Pol Pot's Khmer Rouge launch a campaign of genocide in Cambodia.
  • 1980: In protest of the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, President Carter keeps U.S. athletes out of the Moscow Olympics.
  • 1985: A new era begins in the USSR as Konstantin Chernenko dies, and is replaced by Mikhail Gorbachev, who at 54 years old is the youngest Soviet leader in decades.

Event and Its Context

Before Union Organization

In 1935 President Franklin D. Roosevelt, as part of his New Deal legislation, signed the National Labor Relations Act (NLRA, commonly called the Wagner Act), which gave workers the legal right to organize unions. The NLRA, revised principally in 1947 and 1959, covers only the private employee sector and explicitly excludes the public employee sector. Although public employees are generally covered under separate legislation at federal, state, and local levels, the NLRA eventually had a major influence on most public sector labor legislation, including that in the state of Hawaii.

During the depression years of the 1930s, times were difficult for Hawaii's public workers. Republicans with a probusiness bias dominated the territorial legislature, and public workers worked six days a week with diminishing wages and benefits. In 1932 and again in 1933, the legislature cut salaries of the public employees by 10 percent. Soon thereafter, the government eliminated 229 public jobs, about 10 percent of the entire public workforce.

Hawaii Government Employees Association

As a result of this action, two Board of Water Supply (BWS) workers, Daniel Ainoa and Edward Morgan, decided to organize the BWS employees. When Frederick Ohrt, the general manager of the BWS, heard of the plan, he liked the idea because he hoped that the union would strengthen his department. Ohrt even suggested (to the surprise of Ainoa and Morgan) that they expand the idea to include all government workers and contacted other department heads about bringing their employees into the union. The managers of departments including Fire, Planning, Territorial Tax Office, and the Parks Board sent representatives to an organizational meeting at the Library of Hawaii in 1934. The representatives appointed Charles Welsh as the constitutional chairman. Welsh then appointed a committee to draft the new organization's constitution. The representatives met again in the first half of 1935 and adopted the constitution along with the union's new name, the Hawaiian Government Employees Association (HGEA), and formally established the union on 11 September 1936.

In the decade after its founding, the HGEA lobbied for such legislation as the Civil Service Act and the Hawaiian Standard Classification law. In addition, the Hawaii Employee Relations Act, the Hawaiian version of the Wagner Act (informally called the "Little Wagner Act"), became law in 1945, but only gave workers in the private sector the right to organize and to bargain collectively. Hawaii enacted this legislation because the federal Wagner Act only applied to the states of the Union, and not to territories such as Alaska and Hawaii.

Thinking that the new HGEA lacked strength and unity in the early 1950s, the Republican-dominated legislature continued to reduce public employee benefits, specifically reducing vacation and sick leave, lowering salary rates, and freezing wages. The public employees, allied with a determined HGEA, launched a voter registration drive and threw their support behind the reform-minded Democratic Party. More than 9,200 members of the HGEA switched to the prolabor Democratic Party. This action helped the Democrats take control of both houses of the territorial legislature. In fact, the Hawaii Times newspaper reported on 4 November 1954 that the HGEA was a deciding factor in the outcome of the landslide Democratic victory.

Democrats made good on their election promises in the 1955 legislature by restoring the holiday and sick leave benefits that had been abolished in 1953. They unfroze public worker salaries and in 1957 gave public employees the right to take coffee breaks. Still, the public employees had no collective bargaining and had to visit the state capitol on a regular basis to request improvements in working conditions and increased wages.

Hawaii became a state in 1959. By the 1960s the labor-management system for the Hawaii public employees was similar to that in the other 49 states in that it was slowly evolving fragments of different laws. The slowness in applying collective bargaining to the public sector was due to the following principle reasons:

  • Unions had difficulty organizing because the government was considered sovereign (supreme), and its public employees generally could not take action against their employer without the employer's consent.
  • Elected government officials legally could not delegate their responsibilities to others, and because government employees were responsible only to the voters (according to the U.S. democratic system), the idea of being responsible to a trade union was not supported.
  • Adoption of collective bargaining principles that had been developed by the private sector was often difficult and reflected the complexities of the political system.
  • Government-wide classifications and working conditions that were mandated by legislation and applied to public employees contributed to difficulties in collective bargaining.
  • Problems involving the lack of a right to strike for public employees were an obstacle to the growth of unions and collective bargaining.

By the late 1960s there was a growing recognition (and eventual acceptance) in some state governments that strikes would happen in the public sector whether they were legal or not. Leaders of some state governments agreed that it was best to regulate the process rather than to try to stop it. The greatest resistance in labor laws for the public sector related to the question of whether public employees should have the right to strike. Limitations were imposed in large part because of the public safety concerns related to essential public employees such as firefighters and police. The argument in favor of the right to strike for public sector employees was that the collective bargaining process was impossible without the possibility of strikes: without cause for concern about a shutdown, employers have no incentive to compromise and negotiate in good faith.

Hawaii Public Employment Relations Act

The HGEA lobbied for greater worker benefits both before and after statehood was achieved in 1959. In 1961, under the leadership of Charles Kendall, the government created a state-subsidized medical insurance program and an "Equal Pay for Equal Work" law (designed to make pay scales uniform throughout the state).

The HGEA emphasized the idea of collective bargaining in the late 1960s, after first lobbying the legislature in 1949 to allow public employees to choose an organization as their sole bargaining agent. At the historic 1970 legislative session, law-makers submitted 15 bills on public sector collective bargaining. At that session the legislature, after amending Article XII of the state constitution, passed the Hawaii Public Employment Relations Act, which established the right of public employees to organize for bargaining collectively. It required public employers to negotiate and enter into written agreements with exclusive bargaining representatives on matters of wages, hours, and other conditions of work.

The Hawaii Public Employment Relations Act of 1970 made the rights of public employees in the state parallel to those of employees in the private sector. As of 2003, the right of Hawaii's public employees, along with its private employees, to collective bargaining was stated in Article XIII of the state constitution:

  • Private Employees (Section 1): Persons in private employment shall have the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining.
  • Public Employees (Section 2): Persons in public employment shall have the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining as provided by law.

At the beginning of the twenty-first century, only two states had statutes granting all public employees the limited right to strike. Hawaii was technically the first state to provide by state law the legal right for public employees to strike, though Pennsylvania enacted a similar statute in the same month just a few days after the Hawaii law was passed. The innovative laws of both Pennsylvania and Hawaii provide a mechanism for dispute resolution that could lawfully end in a strike. However, both states permit public workers to strike only after the parties have adhered strictly to the impasse provisions of the law.

The Hawaiian mechanism that eventually allows strikes by public employees is a complicated one. The Hawaii law, which applies to all public employees, provides a limited right to strike when all of the following conditions are met:

  • There must be no danger to the public health or safety.
  • The employees involved must be in a unit certified by the Public Employment Relations Board.
  • The employee unit must not be one for which arbitration is required to resolve interest disputes.
  • The parties must have exhausted good-faith mediation and fact-finding efforts to resolve the dispute.
  • If an unfair labor practice exists, the parties must have exhausted all proceedings under the statutes.
  • Sixty days must have elapsed since the fact-finding report was made public.
  • The union must file a 10-day written notice of its intent to engage in a work stoppage.

The Hawaii Public Employment Relations Board is authorized to decide whether these prerequisites have been met and to set requirements to avoid or remove imminent or present dangers found in a situation that may lead to a work stoppage. After the Hawaii Public Employment Relations Act was passed, few strikes occurred because of the act's complicated requirements pertaining to work stoppages.


The 1970 Hawaiian law was benchmark legislation at the time. It remained controversial. After 1994 the Hawaii legislature replaced the right to strike (except for teachers, professors, and sanitation workers) with binding arbitration after about 20,000 clerical and white-collar professional employees of the state and its four counties (represented by the HGEA) conducted the first strike in that union's 60-year history. However, after a series of arbitration losses in the first few years of the 2000s, the state of Hawaii returned the right to strike and has removed binding arbitration (for all but police, firefighters, prison guards, and nurses).

Currently, the HGEA is affiliated with the American Federation of State, County, and Municipal Employees (AFSCME). The AFCSME represents more than 1.3 million public employees and health care workers throughout the United States. It is the largest affiliate of the American Federation of Labor-Congress of Industrial Organizations (AFL-CIO).

With the state of Hawaii leading the way for other states to follow, state and local legislation grew considerably with respect to collective bargaining. Forty of the 50 states have some type of legislation to protect the right of public employees both to organize and to bargain collectively. Twenty-six states have adopted a comprehensive collective bargaining-labor relations policy for all public employees. Ten other states have adopted collective bargaining policies that cover only certain public employees. Four more states have established an alternative "meet-and-confer" policy, which is a weaker form of collective bargaining. It places no obligation on the employer either to negotiate or to sign a contract. Finally, only 10 states (Arizona, Arkansas, Colorado, Louisiana, Mississippi, North Carolina, South Carolina, Utah, Virginia, and West Virginia) currently do not have any legislation whatsoever granting collective bargaining rights to their public employees. At the end of 1998, 6.9 million workers at all levels of government were unionized, comprising 37.5 percent of total government employment.

Key Players

Ainoa, Daniel: With Edward Morgan, Ainoa, an employee at the Hawaii Board of Water Supply (BWS), initiated the first organizational meeting for Hawaiian state public employees.

Kendall, Charles: Kendall was a leader of the Hawaiian Government Employees Association (HGEA) and helped to lobby the state congress for additional state employee benefits in the late 1950s and 1960s.

Morgan, Edward: With Ainoa, Morgan initiated the first public employee organizational meeting for Hawaiian state workers. Morgan was an employee of the Hawaii BWS.

Ohrt, Frederick: Ohrt was the manager of the BWS, a Hawaii state department. He helped Daniel Ainoa and Edward Morgan establish the Hawaiian Government Employees Association (HGEA).

Welsh, Charles: Welsh was appointed the constitutional chairman of the HGEA in 1934.

See also: Wagner Act.



Beechert, Edward D. Working in Hawaii: A Labor History.Honolulu: University of Hawaii Press, 1985.

Flynn, Ralph J. Public Work, Public Workers. Washington, DC: The New Republic Book Company, Inc., 1975.

Herman, E. Edward, Alfred Kuhn, and Ronald L. Seeber. Collective Bargaining and Labor Relations, 2nd ed. Englewood Cliffs, NJ: Prentice-Hall, 1987.

Weitzman, J. The Scope of Bargaining in Public Employment. New York: Praeger Publishers, 1975.


Center for Labor Education and Research, University of Hawaii (CLEAR), University of Hawaii, West Oahu. "A Brief History of Labor in Hawai'i" [cited 6 December 2002]. <http://homepages.uhwo.hawaii.edu/~clear/Lhistory.html>.

——. "Hawai'i Public Employment Relations Act: HRS, Chapter 89, Collective Bargaining in Public Employment" [cited 6 December 2002]. <http://homepages.uhwo.hawaii.edu/~clear/HRS89.html>.

——. "HRS Chapter 377, Hawai'i Employment Relations Act [as of July 2000]." July 2000 [cited 6 December 2002]. <http://homepages.uhwo.hawaii.edu/~clear/HRS377.html>.

Gould, William B. "Industrial Relations in the Public Sector: U.S.A." Italian Labor Law Online [cited 6 December 2002]. <http://www.dirittodellavoro.it/miscellanea/atti/israele/0037-u~1.pdf>.

Hanham, Robert O. "Collective Bargaining and Public Employee Unionism in West Virginia" [cited 6 December 2002]. <http://www.polsci.wvu.edu/ipa/par/report_9_4.html>.

Hawaii Government Employee Association. "Two-Year Wage Freeze." HGEA/AFSCME News and Announcements. 10 January 2000 [cited 6 December 2002]. <http://www.hgea.org/news/special/wagefreeze.html>.

Smyser, A. A. "Public Worker Bargaining Veteran Gives Some Advice." Hawaii's World, Honolulu Star-Bulletin, 18 May 2000 [cited 6 December 2002]. <http://starbulletin.com/2000/05/18/editorial/smyser.html>.

State of Hawaii. "State Constitution: The Constitution of the State of Hawaii-As Amended and in Force January 1, 2000, Article XIII, Organization; Collective Bargaining" [cited 6 December 2002]. <http://www.state.hi.us/lrb/con/conart13.html>.

—William Arthur Atkins

About this article

Hawaii Collective Bargaining Law

Updated About encyclopedia.com content Print Article