ADVISORY OPINION NO. 2019-1
Hawaii State Ethics Commission, January 31, 2019
A member of a state board requested an Advisory Opinion from the State Ethics Commission (“Commission”) as to whether he may represent the board in collective bargaining negotiations with a union representing the public sector employees within the board member’s state department. The board member’s spouse is employed by the department and a member of the union. Because of the spouse’s membership in the union, it is the Commission’s opinion that the conflicts of interests section of the State Ethics Code, Chapter 84, Hawaii Revised Statutes (“HRS”), prohibits the board member from representing the board in negotiations with the union, such that he must recuse himself from taking action affecting the terms of employment of members of the union.
The Commission understands the facts to be as follows. The board member has a strong background in collective bargaining and believes that one of the reasons he was appointed to the board was to assist it in collective bargaining matters. By law, the board has votes in negotiating a collective bargaining agreement (“CBA”). There is a current CBA that governs the terms and conditions of employment of union members. The CBA provides for the re-opening of certain subjects and two subjects are being reopened for renegotiation, both of which would affect the terms and conditions of employment of the union members. The re-opened items would not involve cost items; board members negotiating with the union would have limited discretion in negotiating any cost items as funding amounts are not determined by the board. The board member has been asked to assist the board in its negotiations on the re-opened items. It is also likely that the board member will be asked to assist on negotiations for a successor CBA.
The board member’s spouse is an employee of the board member’s department and one of many members of the union. The re-opened items would affect the terms of employment for all union members but would not affect the spouse any more significantly than they would any other member of the union. The board member voluntarily sought the guidance of the Commission to address any ethics concerns regarding his service on the board. He indicated to the Commission that he wanted to avoid any appearance of impropriety and to avoid any public concern regarding his service to the State….
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