The state legislature passed a bill (HB 553) that would allow graduate assistants at the University the right to collectively bargain, but the governor informed the legislature of his intent to veto the bill on June 29.
“This is an historic development that has the potential to greatly improve the financial and employment situations of graduate students at UH and is the result of several decades of efforts from the Graduate Student Organization,” said Jonathan Dial, who became president of the organization at the end of the 2015 semester. “However, I was notified at a meeting with members of the governor’s staff that HB 553 will be placed on a list of bills that will possibly be vetoed as a result of potential complications with the implementation of the measure. While I understand that implementation will not be an easy task, I firmly believe that the benefits to grad students, higher education, and the state of Hawaii, from passing this legislation far outweigh the costs of overcoming these obstacles.
“Graduate education is a cornerstone of higher education, and higher education is crucial in the development of a strong economy and industries for any state,” continued Dial. “Given the poor treatment that grad students have historically received and are currently experiencing at UH, it is no surprise that efforts to unionize have been ongoing for several decades. Furthermore, the poor conditions for graduate assistants make it more appealing for local students to seek their educations elsewhere, thereby taking any potential benefits for Hawaii from their educations with them. This essentially sets up the possibility of prolonged ‘brain drain’ for the entire state. With the passing of HB 553 by the legislature this session, there is hope that the state recognizes the importance of graduate education and is actively working to improve our situations and Hawaii’s professional community.
“However, the possibility of a veto suggests otherwise, jeopardizes the efforts of past and present graduate students in Hawaii to improve their own situations, and that of higher education in Hawaii, and endangers economic growth. The unwillingness to put forth that necessary effort suggests a low valuation of higher education and its benefits for the state,” Dial concluded.
Graduate students and other Hawaii residents can write to Governor Ige or call (808) 586-0034 to encourage him to sign HB 553 into law and demonstrate that he supports graduate students and higher education.