Tuesday, Oct. 03, 2023|
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Hawaii County employees could receive hazard pay for working during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The Hawaii Government Employees Association, Hawaii’s largest union representing 5,400 Big Island members, declined to comment but confirmed arbitration hearings about the extra pay are ongoing with the county.
County Department of Finance Director Deanna Sako told the Tribune-Herald, “We do not comment on ongoing litigation matters.”
“Our county is saving about $40 million on the side in case we need to pay out arbitration hazard pay for county employees during their employment during COVID,” said County Councilman Holeka Goro Inaba. “Maui County had to pay out a significant amount in the last few months, and county Finance (Department) saved about $40 million for us in case we do need to pay out in the current year.”
In October, temporary hazard pay was granted to Maui County workers through arbitration for more than 1,300 HGEA members. They received up to 25% of their base salary for the duration of the pandemic, defined by former Gov. David Ige’s emergency proclamation from March 4, 2020 to March 25, 2022.
“This award validates our belief that what our government workforce did during the COVID-19 global pandemic was truly extraordinary,” HGEA Executive Director Randy Perreira said in a statement from October. “Our members sacrificed their health, and quite frankly, their families’ safety, to show up at work each and every day. They are not just essential workers, they are our social safety net and they kept Hawaii afloat during this unprecedented crisis.”
The United Public Workers union, which has roughly 13,000 members statewide, also reached a settlement with Maui County regarding temporary hazard pay for county employees.
A UPW representative who declined to be named confirmed the union is entering arbitration with Hawaii County.
“The latest is that we have been assigned arbiters in Hawaii County, and we are in the process of gathering witness and testimony for that,” the representative told the Tribune-Herald on Friday.
The settlement in Maui County agreed to pay 700 UPW members 20% of their hourly compensation for 18 months, which was based on when the pandemic began and when cases started to flatten.
“Maui’s situation was different because the mayor settled before arbitration,” the representative said. “The mayor actually came to the table with an offer, and we accepted. That’s the only situation where that has happened yet, although we can say the Kauai County mayor has been willing to provide offers, they just haven’t quite yet been something we would agree to.”
The representative confirmed UPW is not in arbitration with Kauai County yet, and is waiting for Mayor Derek Kawakami to provide an offer the union considers reasonable.
Because arbitration is still ongoing, how many Hawaii County employees could benefit and the total amount they could receive for potential temporary hazard pay is not yet known.
“We could pay nothing, we could pay less, but we’re putting up money on the side in case we have to pay in full,” Inaba said. “That $40 million isn’t even budgeted … it’s not part of the operating budget.”
The county Department of Finance did not confirm where the money for hazard pay would come from.
Hawaii County Mayor Mitch Roth did not respond to a request for comment prior to publication of this article.
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