The Hawaii Civil Union Law, signed by Governor Neil Abercrombie on February 23, 2011 goes into effect on January 1, 2012. It permits same-sex or opposite-sex couples to enter into civil unions. The Hawaii Civil Unions provide many of the same benefits as marriage under state law, although they are not recognized by federal law.
Although specifics on the bill are sketchy, it appears that employers will have to extend the same benefits to civil partners as to spouses of employees in Hawaii.
Gas prices hit an average of $4.04 nationwide this month. The increase in fuel cost – and a corresponding in food prices – is adversely affecting a number of industries. But airlines are among those hardest hit. Several smaller airlines have gone out of business this year, while even the giants are struggling. United Airlines recently announced plans to layoff more than 1,600 employees. All major airlines are decreasing services to travelers and increasing prices. United and American Airlines recently announced that they will charge travelers $15 to check one bag, and an additional $50 to check a second bag, even on domestic flights. Northwest Airlines recently announced that it will eliminate snacks on all domestic flights. (more…)
Governor Linda Lingle recently signed a bill that will transform the state’s economy. According to the Governor, the STEM educational initiative will change the state’s economy from one based on land development to one based on innovation and highly skilled human capital.
At the same time, the Governor also approved a popular measure to reduce the unemployment insurance premiums paid by employers. With the state unemployment rate at about 2.5% for June, the Governor has opted to pass some of the savings on to businesses.
The Governor signed both bills in Lihu‘e at a Kaua‘i Chamber of Commerce luncheon meeting. Governor Lingle originally ran on a platform of transforming Hawaii into a business-friendly environment. Prior to her election, there were allegations that the previous Governor used state agencies to punish rival business owners and political enemies.
The new STEM education law supports the Lingle Administration’s Hawaii Innovation Initiative. According to the Governor, this includes providing Hawaii students with world-class analytical and problem-solving skills developed through science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) education.
“The programs established under this bill are part of a long-term effort to develop the innovation capacity of Hawaii’s workforce, particularly the younger generation, in order to successfully compete in the global economy,” said Governor Lingle.
“These initiatives, especially the STEM-related programs, focus on creating life-long learning and skill-building opportunities for students, teachers and our existing labor force.”
This measure establishes career and technical programs in a variety of fields, including engineering, computing, robotics and project EAST (or Environmental and Spatial Technology). Projects will be offered jointly with the University of Hawaii, community colleges, the Hawaii Department of Education (DOE) and private entities. The bill appropriates $5 million for these programs in each of two fiscal years, 2008 and 2009.
This includes the establishment of STEM academies on Kauai, through a Hawaii Excellence through Science and Technology (HiEST) Academy pilot program that will be administered by Kauai Community College at two public schools. The bill appropriates $522,040 and authorizes three positions at Kauai Community College to administer the program. It also provides $53,460 to the state Department of Energy for a position to collaborate with the community college on establishing the HiEST pilot program.
The bill also creates the Fostering Inspiration and Relevance through Science and Technology or FIRST program within the University of Hawaii College of Engineering to focus on setting up project-based learning programs. FIRST is aimed at students in grades 4 through 8. School participation in the FIRST program will be voluntary. The bill establishes a FIRST teacher training program at the University of Hawaii to support the development of middle school teacher skills and knowledge and the formation of a middle school STEM curriculum. The middle school program will have an emphasis on wireless communications. To implement the FIRST program, the measure appropriates $2.8 million and authorizes nine positions at the University of Hawaii.
The second bill culminates a three-year effort by Governor Lingle and her heir-apparent, Lt. Governor Aiona. The program will ease the unemployment insurance tax burden on Hawaii businesses. The new law is truly a win/win situation that lowers the taxable wage base for unemployment insurance payments, while also increasing benefits for unemployed individuals. It will result in a net savings of $151 million over the next three years.
It’s hard to believe, but in 1999, under the previous Governor, businesses cited the Hawaii Department of Labor and Industrial Relations as the major obstacle to business growth. It’s amazing how quickly things have changed in Governor Linda Lingle’s two terms in office. With all of these changes, Hawaii is certainly becoming a state that fosters strong relationships with business.
Hawaii Governor Linda Lingle recently announced two major changes to the state’s employment scene. The Governor recently appointed a new Interim Director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, as well as an Executive Director of the State’s Office of Language Access.
Friday, Governor Lingle named Darwin Ching as Interim Director of the Department of Labor and Industrial Relations (DLIR.) The DLIR is Hawaii’s state equivalent of the state Department of Labor. Ching, an attorney from Honolulu, is a former Board of Education member.
Ching’s appointment comes in the wake of the Governor’s April 19, 2007 appointment of Serafin Colmenares as Executive Director of the Office of Language Access. Colmenares assumed his new duties on April 25.
Ching replaces Nelson Befitel, who asked not to be considered for appointment to a second term. Befitel, who was appointed in 2002, faced an uphill job of transforming the DLIR into an organization that didn’t treat the state’s employers as adversaries. Early in his tenure at DLIR, Befitel, a Filipino, was charged with “workplace violence” when he touched the arm of an uncooperative subordinate who made racist comments. According to news sources, the Governor invited Befitel to stay on, but he declined.
Ching’s appointment is subject to confirmation by the Hawaii State Senate when it reconvenes in January. He will assume duties at the DLIR effective August 6, 2007.
“I am pleased to have Darwin joining my cabinet to help build on our administration’s successful efforts to ensure the well-being of Hawaii’s workers and provide quality employment-related service to Hawaii residents and businesses,” Governor Lingle said.
“Darwin is a dedicated public servant who has demonstrated leadership throughout his 31-year career. His experience and commitment to improve out public education system was very evident during his term of service on the Board of Education. Darwin clearly understands the importance of preparing out future workforce to compete in the global marketplace, while continually upgrading the skills of our current workers.”
Ching served on the Board of Education from August 2005 until November 2006. He was appointed to the position by the governor, to fill a vacant Oahu-at-large seat. While a member of the Board of Education, Ching was chair for labor negotiations for the Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) Units 6 and 10. In that position, Ching was instrumental in negotiating an agreement between the BOE and the union.
The Hawaii Office of Language Access was created in 2006 under Governor Lingle’s leadership. Hawaii is one of the most culturally diverse of all the U.S. states, a high percentage of voters speaking a language other than English at home. The purpose of the Office of Language Access is to ensure that citizens have access to government services in a language that they can understand. The Office is administratively attached to the DILR.
As Executive Director, Colemares is responsible for coordinating with state agencies and nonprofit organizations to render services on behalf of the state. This ensures that individuals with limited English proficiency have access to services. This includes working with the various agencies to develop and implement plans to offer translation services to individuals who seek access to services, programs, or activities, as well as to translate vital documents.
“As someone who immigrated to Hawaii, speaks several languages, and who has worked to help other immigrants assimilate and gain access to vital services, Serafin is ideally suited to head the Office of Language Access,” said Governor Lingle. “As the Office of Language Access continues to take shape, Serafin’s background and personal experiences will be valuable in ensuring that no one in our state is denied access to basic services such as medical care and housing simply because they may not be proficient in English.”Colmenares previously worked as an evaluation analyst for the state’s Executive Office on Aging, which is attached to the Department of Health. Prior to that, he worked in other positions including Program Officer for Health at the Hawaii Community Foundation, bilingual health worker at the Lanakila Easy Access Project, job resource specialist and case manager with Catholic Charities Immigrant Services and interpreter with Bilingual Access Line of Helping Hands Hawaii.
According to Lt. Governor Aiona, three new laws will protect workers and neighborhoods from illegal drugs. Aiona signed the bills into law during his stint as Acting Governor in May 2007. All three laws took effect on July 1, 2007.
In a law that moves Hawaii to the forefront of drug testing, employers are now allowed to perform on-the-job drug testing using portable saliva swab test kits. The kits, which cost just $10 to $15 each, use saliva to check for drug use. The “oral fluid tests” are cheaper, faster and easier to use than urinalysis. The construction industry strongly advocated these tests, to replace the more expensive urine sample testing. Drug testing has been legally used in that industry since the 1980s. This new law applies to every employer that was previously approved for urinalysis, including the construction industry.
Using these simple tests, a cotton swab is rubbed inside the mouth. The test results are available in as little as 5 minutes. A urine test for drugs requires giving a sample in a clinic. Results take at least 4 hours, and often are not available the same day.
“Drug and alcohol abuse remain a problem in Hawaii’s workforce,” said Lt. Governor Aiona. “The law will go a long way towards helping to promote a drug-free workplace. This measure provides a cost effective on-the-job alternative to lab tests that can be costly and difficult to schedule.”
According to the U.S. Department of Labor, drug or alcohol abuse are involved in the majority of fatal accidents in the workplace. These laws represent an effort by the state government to make the workplace safer for everyone.
Although the new law permitting oral drug testing was effective on July 1, in many cases collective bargaining agreements will have to be updated before companies can start using the non-FDA approved tests. This procedure isn’t expected to take long, however, since the unions – as well as management and the state government – are in favor of the new law. According to union sources, they welcome the improved safety and working conditions that the tests will introduce.
One representative of the Pacific Resource Partnership, an alliance between contractors and the Carpenters Union Local 745, said construction workers and the industry pushed for the new tests as a way to decrease costs and save time while keeping job sites safe.
The cost savings are significant, with a typical swab test running only $15 compared to $50 to $60 for a urine test, according to our sources. This new law will greatly improve drug testing because it can be done onsite. Traditional tests could only be done in a clinic or doctor’s office. Contractors are usually working on a tight schedule, so they were reluctant to schedule time away from the job for drug tests.
This new law allows for the tests to be done on-site in a construction trailer or office.
Hawaii unions led the way in drug testing. The Hawaii Carpenters Union was the first in the industry to endorse drug testing. According to a source within the union, in the late 1980s about 30% of drug tests came back positive. Today, only about 3% to 5% of drug tests are positive. Of those, the majority are from new hires that have not yet started working. Those on the job realize that drug use just doesn’t work for the Hawaii Carpenters Union.
A second bill will provide $150,000 to increase the staffing of the state’s Drug Nuisance Abatement Unit, which investigates illegal drug houses and drug activity for the Attorney General’s Office. This bill is aimed at reducing the availability of illegal drugs at work and in the neighborhoods.
The third bill signed into law by Lt. Governor Aiona is part of the Lingle Administration’s push to establish SBIRT. SBIRT is the Screening, Briefing, Intervention, Referral and Treatment Program to aid those with substance abuse problems. The current bill allocates $84,000 for screening and outreach. The funds will be used by hospital emergency rooms and trauma centers for patients with injuries stemming from alcohol and illegal drug use.
SBIRT has already been recognized by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (or SAMHSA) as a best practice due to its success in other states, including California, Alaska, Pennsylvania and Texas.
“This is something that I think is going to be a great asset for employers, especially in the construction industry where public safety is a huge factor,” said Lt. Governor Aiona.