Maui Members Testify in Support of Bills to Address Employment Separation Benefits for those Affected by the Reduction in Force in the HHSC Maui Region
Maui members Shaunadean Gomes, Christine Wong, & Lorena Asuncion are on a mission with our Union, determined to secure the retirement benefits they, and their fellow employees, have rightfully earned through their years of service within the Maui Region of Hawaii Health System Corporation (HHSC). HB 1075, signed into law by Governor David Ige as Act 103, was passed by the Hawaii State Legislature in 2015 - transferring the operations and management of those facilities to Kaiser Permanente, a private employer.
Act 103 failed to address employment separation benefits through the transition, and the Union has been fighting for legislation that would define special circumstances for vesting of employees within the Employees Retirement System and allow affected employees to retire from the State without penalty. Member Christine Wong will have missed her years of service requirement by one day, when the Kaiser takeover goes into effect on July 1, 2016. She is not alone. Member Lorena Asuncion is apparently being penalized 42% (6% per year), because, while she does meet the years of service requirement, she does not meet the age requirement for retirement.
Visibly distraught by the whole situation, member Shaunadean Gomes voiced her concerns with legislative representatives in the Senate Judiciary and House Labor committees in two separate hearings on March 16 & 18, respectively.
At the House Labor Committee hearing on March 18, she discussed the history of the legislation to privatize the Maui region, pointing out that the Union had been lobbying the legislature, asking lawmakers to conduct an audit of the HHSC system and effectively staving off earlier attempts to privatize the region for a couple of years. Gomes vocalized her disapproval of the legislative decision to forgo an Audit of HHSC on more than one occasion, giving specific examples of mismanagement and misuse of funding. “We wanted accountability. We didn’t get accountability,” said Gomes. She mentioned one purchase of cardiology equipment, costing more than $100,000, that was never used. She spoke of the construction of 3 buildings that sat empty for “a couple years” at a cost of $50,000 per month to the region. “They blame us now. How can they blame us?” she asked. “We don’t sign the checks.”
Gomes spoke of the many issues confronting HHSC employees, statewide. The reduction-in-force (RIF) is affecting employees in other regions who are being bumped out of their positions. Her cousin, who works for Lanai Community Hospital, is bumping an employee on the Big Island out of work and is now dealing with the prospect of moving his entire family at age 50. Beyond that, Gomes asked legislators to try and put themselves in his shoes - to understand the feeling that comes along with knowing another individual with a family is being put out of work through this RIF process.
Gomes said there were many mistakes being made throughout the transition process. In a meeting with Kaiser’s Human Resources representatives, she said she was told, “What we have to do normally in 18- 24 months, we have to rush and do it in a short amount of time before July 1st…What’s the rush?” Bargaining Unit 10 contract in hand, she said, “My contract here, it says, ends June 30, 2017. This is not 2017. This is 2016.”
Even after being turned down by Judge Helen Gilmore, the Union continues to advocate our position with respect to having an active contract in Federal Court, seeking a federal injunction to stop the State in their actions to privatize the HHSC Maui Region. Arguments have already been presented in the 9th circuit, in a San Fransisco Courtroom, and we are awaiting a decision in that case.
Class grievances were also filed by UPW State Director Dayton M. Nakanelua in reaction to the news that the State, through Governor Ige, signed an agreement with Kaiser and sent out RIF notices to employees within the Maui region.
State Director Nakanelua says, “It is so important that we attack this issue from more than one angle. We hope for success in our federal case, and we continue to work toward ensuring relief for our members through the grievance and legislative processes. As we have and are with other workunits, presently with front-end loader refuse operations on Oahu, we continue with a multi-pronged approach in addressing issues in the HHSC Maui Region,” continues Nakanelua. “This is Our Union, Our Family!"