Employee Relations And Major State Employees’ Benefits

Public Employee Collective Bargaining

The Constitution grants public employees in the State the right to organize for the purpose of collective bargaining. HRS Chapter 89 provides for 13 recognized bargaining units for all public employees throughout the State including State and county employees. Each bargaining unit designates an employee organization as the exclusive representative of all employees of such unit, which organization negotiates with the public employer. In the case of bargaining units for nonsupervisory blue collar positions, supervisory blue collar positions, nonsupervisory white collar positions, supervisory white collar positions, registered professional nurses, institutional health and correctional workers and professional and scientific employees, the Governor of the State shall have six votes, and the mayors of each of the counties, the Chief Justice of the State Judiciary and the Hawaii Health Systems Corporation Board shall each have one vote. In the case of bargaining units for police officers and fire fighters, the Governor shall have four votes and the mayors shall each have one vote. In the case of bargaining units for teachers and educational officers, the Governor shall have three votes, the State Board of Education shall have two votes and the state superintendent of education shall have one vote. In the case of bargaining units for UH faculty and UH administrative professional and technical staff, the Governor shall have three votes, the UH Board of Regents shall have two votes and the UH president shall have one vote. Decisions by the employer representatives shall be on the basis of simple majority, except when a bargaining unit includes county employees from more than one county. In such case, the simple majority shall include at least one county.

By statute, if an impasse in any negotiation is declared, the parties may attempt to resolve the impasse through mediation, fact finding, and, if mutually agreeable to the parties, final and binding arbitration. Although the statute characterizes arbitration as “final and binding,” it also provides that all cost items are subject to appropriations by the appropriate legislative bodies. If final and binding arbitration is not agreed upon, either party may take other lawful action to end the dispute, which, in the case of blue collar workers, public school teachers and university professors, could include an employee strike. In the case of the remaining ten bargaining units, including fire fighters and police officers, a strike is prohibited by law, and negotiation impasses are subject to mandatory final and binding arbitration, subject to appropriation of cost items, as described above. Certain employees are not party to a formal labor contract, including elected and appointed officials and certain contractual hires.

Further information can be found on this link to Chapter 89, HRS, Collective Bargaining in Public Employment – https://www.capitol.hawaii.gov/hrscurrent/Vol02_Ch0046-0115/HRS0089/HRS_0089-.htm.

State Employees’ Health Benefits

Act 88, SLH 2001, Relating to Public Employees Health Benefits (partially codified as HRS Chapter 87A), established the Hawaii Employer Union Health Benefits Trust Fund (“Trust Fund”). The Trust Fund provides health and other benefit plans for public employees, retirees and their dependents. The employers participating in the Trust Fund include the State and each of the counties. Public employer contributions to the Trust Fund for the health and other benefit plans of public employees and their dependents are determined under HRS Chapter 89C, or by way of applicable public sector collective bargaining agreements. Except for reimbursement of voluntary medical insurance coverage under Medicare, public employer contributions to fund the health and other benefit plans of retirees are not to exceed certain monthly contribution levels specified in HRS Chapter 87A.

The Government Accounting Standards Board (“GASB”) has issued Statements No. 43 (“GASB 43”), Financial Reporting for Post Employment Benefit Plans Other Than Pension Plans (“OPEBs”), and No. 45 (“GASB 45”), Accounting and Financial Reporting by Employers for Post Employment Benefits Other Than Pensions. GASB 43 was implemented by the Trust Fund for fiscal year ending June 30, 2007 and GASB 45 was implemented by the employers for fiscal year ending June 30, 2008 and for the County of Kauai for fiscal year ending June 30, 2009. The Trust Fund will separately track employer contributions and has prepared Trust Fund financial statements as an Agent Multiple Employer Plan under GASB 43.

The State has received the State of Hawaii Employer Union Trust Fund (“Trust Fund”) July 1, 2011 Actuarial Valuation Study (the “Trust Fund Report”) of the Trust Fund’s Other Postemployment Benefits (“OPEB”). The Trust Fund Report was prepared by the State’s professional actuarial advisors, Aon Hewitt. The Trust Fund Report quantifies the Actuarial Accrued Liabilities (“AAL”) of the respective employers under GASB 45 and develops Annual Required Contributions (“ARC”) as the basis for determining the amounts that the respective employers will report under GASB 45, effective for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012.

The Trust Fund Report provides, based on stated actuarial assumptions, costs with no prefunding of the ARC and a discount rate of 4%. The Trust Fund Report states that the State’s AAL as of July 1, 2011 is $13,566.8 million, and the corresponding ARC for the fiscal year ending June 30, 2012 would be $952.6 million. The estimated Trust Fund pay as you go funding amount for fiscal year ending June 30, 2011 was $268.7 million. The State has commenced its analysis of the alternatives available to it in the light of the GASB 43 and 45 standards and the information contained in the Reports. For the time being, the State expects to continue to fund its OPEB costs on a “pay as you go” basis for the near term.

Further information can be found on this link to the Hawaii Employer Union Health Benefits Trust Fund webpage – https://eutf.hawaii.gov/.

State Employees’ Retirement System

The System began operation on January 1, 1926. The System is a cost sharing, multiple employer defined benefit pension plan. The actuarial information presented herein is provided for all employers of the System in total. The System’s plan year runs from July 1 of each year through the following June 30. The System covers all regular employees of the State and each of its counties, including judges and elected officials. As it is a cost-sharing plan, the System does not allocate its liabilities among participating employers. However, the State estimates that its share of the System, based on a percentage of payroll, is approximately 75% with the remaining 25% share as the responsibility of the four counties. Although the State’s employer contributions are recorded as expenses of the General Fund, 26.3% are reimbursed from various special funds of the State.

The statutory provisions of HRS Chapter 88 govern the operation of the System. Responsibility for the general administration of the System is vested in a Board of Trustees, with certain areas of administrative control being vested in the Department of Budget and Finance. The Board of Trustees consists of eight members: the Director of Finance of the State, ex officio; four members of the System (two general employees, one teacher, and one retiree) who are elected by the members and retirees of the System; and three citizens of the State (one of whom shall be an officer of a bank authorized to do business in the State, or a person of similar experience) who are appointed by the Governor and may not be employees of the State or any county. All contributions, benefits and eligibility requirements are established by statute, under HRS Chapter 88, and may only be amended by legislative action.

Prior to 1984, the System consisted of only a contributory plan. Legislation enacted in 1984 created a noncontributory retirement plan for certain members of the System who are also covered under Social Security. The noncontributory plan provides for reduced benefits and covers most employees hired after June 30, 1984 and employees hired before that date who elected to join the plan. Police officers, firefighters, other enforcement officials, certain elected and appointed officials and other employees not covered by Social Security are excluded from the noncontributory plan. The minimum service required for retirement eligibility is five years of credited service under the contributory plan and ten years of credited service under the noncontributory plan. Both the contributory and noncontributory plans provide a monthly retirement allowance based on the employee’s age, years of credited service, and average final compensation (the “AFC”). The AFC is the average salary earned during the five highest paid years of service, including the vacation payment, if the employee became a member prior to January 1, 1971 or the three highest paid years of service, excluding the vacation payment (whichever is higher). The AFC for members hired after that date is based on the three highest paid years of service, excluding the vacation payment.

On July 1, 2006, a new defined benefit contributory plan (the “Hybrid Plan”) was established pursuant to Act 179, SLH 2004. Members in the Hybrid Plan are eligible for retirement with full benefits at age 62 with 5 years of credited service or age 55 and 30 years of credited service. Members receive a benefit multiplier of 2% for each year of credited service in the Hybrid Plan. Most new employees hired from July 1, 2006 were required to join the Hybrid Plan.

In December 2010, the System’s actuary completed an Actuarial Experience Study for the five-year period ended June 30, 2010 (the “2010 Experience Study”). In fiscal year 2011, based in part on the results of the Experience Study, the Legislature acted to limit the growth of the State’s pension liabilities by passing Act 163, SLH 2011. This Act, effective July 1, 2012, enacts certain changes to the funding of the System and the benefit structure for new members in all plans. Funding changes include increasing the statutorily required employer contribution rates). Benefit changes for new members include increasing the age and service requirements for retirement eligibility, reducing the retirement benefit multiplier and reducing the interest rate credited to employee contributions to 2%. The change in the interest rate credited to employee contributions to 2% is for new members in the Hybrid Plan and Contributory Plan hired on or after July 1, 2011. All other benefit changes are effective for new members hired on or after July 1, 2012. Act 163, SLH 2011, also reduced the investment yield rate assumption for fiscal year 2011 from 8% to 7.75% and gave authority to the Board of Trustees to adopt all assumptions to be used for actuarial valuations of the System, including the assumed investment yield rate for subsequent fiscal years. To better reflect the recent actual experience of the System, the Board of Trustees adopted the assumption recommendations set forth in the 2010 Experience Study, including continuing the investment yield rate assumption of 7.75%.

In fiscal year 2011, the Legislature acted to improve and protect the System’s funded status by placing a moratorium on the enhancement of benefits. Act 29, SLH 2011, provides that there shall be no benefit enhancement for any group of members until the actuarial value of the System’s assets is 100 percent of the System’s actuarial accrued liability.

Like most public pension funds in the United States, the System was significantly impacted by the severe downturn in the investment markets during fiscal year 2009. Based on the actuarial valuation as of June 30, 2011, the System’s underfunded status has increased significantly because of continued recognition of market investment losses and changes to the actuarial assumptions. However, the System had a partially offsetting liability experience gain which was caused primarily by lower than expected salary increases. The unfunded actuarial accrued liability (the “UAAL”) as of June 30, 2011 was $8.441 billion. The statutory employee and employer contribution rates are intended to provide for the normal cost plus the amortization of the UAAL over a period not in excess of 30 years. Based on the current contribution rates of 19.70% for police and fire employees and 15.00% for all other employees, the future contribution rates established in statute (see), and the new benefit tier for employees hired after June 30, 2012 the actuary has determined that the remaining amortization period is 30 years. Because this period does not exceed 30 years (the maximum period specified by HRS Section 88-122(e)(1)), the financing objectives of the System are currently being realized. Section 88-122(e)(1) of the Hawaii Revised Statutes provides that the employer contribution rates are subject to adjustment when the funding period is in excess of 30 years.

Act 181, SLH 2004, established fixed employer contribution rates as a percentage of compensation (15.75% for their police officers and firefighters and 13.75% for other employees) effective July 1, 2005. Pursuant to Act 256, SLH 2007, employer contributions beginning July 1, 2008 increased to 19.70% for police officers and firefighters and 15.00% for all others employees. As described above, the System’s actuary determined that the remaining period required to amortize the UAAL as of June 30, 2010 was 41.3 years, which is greater than the maximum of 30 years specified by HRS Section 88-122(e)(1). Pursuant to the recommendations of the 2010 Experience Study, the Board of Trustees requested an increase in the statutory employer contribution rates to bring the funding period down to 30 years. In response, the Legislature enacted Act 163, SLH 2011, pursuant to which, effective July 1, 2012, employer contribution requirements will gradually increase as follows:

Employer Contribution effective starting

Police Officers and Firefighters
(% of total payroll)

Other Employees
(% of total payroll)

July 1, 2012



July 1, 2013



July 1, 2014



July 1, 2015




Under the contributory plan, police officers, firefighters, and corrections officers are required to contribute 12.2% of their salary to the plan and most other covered employees are required to contribute 7.8% of their salary. Under the Hybrid Plan, covered employees are generally required to contribute 6.0% of their salary to the plan, with sewer workers in specified classifications, water safety officers and emergency medical technicians required to contribute 9.75% of their salary. Effective July 1, 2012, contribution rates for newly hired employees covered under the contributory and Hybrid Plan increase by 2% pursuant to Act 163, SLH 2011, such that the corresponding contribution rates for new employees as discussed in this paragraph will be 14.2%, 9.8%, 8.0% and 11.75%, respectively. Employees covered under the noncontributory plan do not make contributions.

The actuarial value of assets is equal to the market value, adjusted for a four year phase in of actual investment return in excess or below of expected investment return. The actual return is calculated net of investment and administrative expenses, and the expected investment return is equal to the assumed investment return rate multiplied by the prior year’s market value of assets, adjusted for contributions, benefits paid, and refunds. The actuarial value of assets has been based on a four–year smoothed valuation that recognizes the excess or shortfall of investment income over or under the actuarial investment yield rate assumption. The actuarial asset valuation method is intended to smooth out year-to-year fluctuations in the market return. The excess or shortfall in the actual return during the year, compared to the investment yield rate assumption, is spread over this valuation and the next three valuations.

The System’s actuary uses certain assumptions (including rates of salary increase, probabilities of retirement, termination, death and disability, and an investment yield rate assumption) to determine the amount that an employer must contribute in a given year to provide sufficient funds to the System to pay benefits when due. Prior to fiscal year 2012, HRS Section 88-122(b) provided for the Board of Trustees to adopt the assumptions to be used by the System except the investment yield rate, which was set by the Legislature. Act 163, SLH 2011, set the investment yield rate at 7.75% for fiscal year 2011 but also amended HRS Section 88-122(b) to allow the Board of Trustees to establish, for subsequent fiscal years, all assumptions to be used by the System, including the investment yield rate assumption. The Board of Trustees periodically evaluates and revises the assumptions used by the System for actuarial valuations, including by commissioning experience studies to evaluate the actuarial assumptions to be used by the System. The current assumptions, including continuing the investment yield rate of 7.75%, were adopted by the System’s Board of Trustees based on the recommendations of the System’s actuary in the most recent experience study, the 2010 Experience Study.

Further information can be found on this link to the Employees’ Retirement System’s financials webpage – https://ers.ehawaii.gov/resources/financials.