HWC Testimony in Support of ALU and HB 1531, 1-31-22
Submitted for HWC by John Witeck
On behalf of the Hawaii Workers Center, I urge your committee and the House of
Representatives to pass HB1531 to give collective bargaining rights to the graduate
assistants of the University of Hawaii. The Hawaii Workers Center was founded to
provide assistance and resources to low-wage workers and aid them should they
choose to organize to improve their work situations and living standards.
We are in solidarity with Academic Labor United at the University of Hawaii in its efforts
to win union recognition and able to engage in collective bargaining. These workers
deserve to be respected and treated equitably along with other public employees who
have been allotted recognized bargaining units. Anything less is a contradiction to
Hawaii’s ideals and the guarantees of the Hawaii state constitution.
Graduate assistants are public employees, but unlike most other public employees, the
state legislature, in its 1970 public employee collective bargaining law, wrongfully failed
to include the graduate assistants in the collective bargaining law’s categories of
bargaining units, thus denying these U.H. workers their constitutional right to form a
union and bargain for better wages and working conditions. This unjust situation has
gone on for over a half a century, to the shame of the state and the University.
The Hawaii State Constitution in 1950 provided that persons in public employment shall
have the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. Yet although no one
denies that U.H. graduate assistants are employed by the public and are public
employees, they are denied this fundamental right to form a union and bargain for fair
wages and benefits. These workers do the great bulk of research and teaching on UH
campuses and yet they are treated as second class employees. This should be
corrected at this legislative session.
It should also be recognized that graduate assistants at a many other state universities
have been able to unionize and bargain for wages and benefits– among them are the
University of Michigan (Graduate Employees Organization), California state universities
(organized by United Auto Workers, UAW), University of Washington (UAW), Oregon
State University (Coalition of Graduate Employees), University of Oregon (Graduate
Teaching Fellows Federation). Graduate teaching employees are also unionized at
NYU, Harvard, Tufts University, Brandeis, American University, Brown University, the
New School, and Georgetown University.
It is time that Hawaii legislators get on board and support workers’ rights again as
Democratic Party legislators did in the 1950s, 1960s and 1970s. Allow the academic
graduate assistants to exercise their right to organize and bargain collectively with the
University for fair wages, benefits and decent working conditions. We urge you to
approve HB 1531.