Materials Endorsing Candidate Not Proper For Bulletin Board

The Hawaii Government Employees Association (HGEA) is the labor organization representing a number of employees working for the State of Hawaii. The contract covering HGEA has a clause allowing HGEA to post materials on bulletin boards provided by the State.
HGEA attempted to post materials on its bulletin board endorsing a particular candidate for mayor of Honolulu. When the State forbade HGEA from doing so, HGEA filed an unfair labor practice complaint against the State. The complaint alleged that the State’s decision with respect to the bulletin board impaired the ability of HGEA to act as the exclusive representative of employees.

The Hawaii Supreme Court upheld the dismissal of the complaint. In the Court’s mind, the right to post on the Union bulletin board could be limited by other state statutes. Hawaii’s public employee ethics laws bar the display of all campaign materials on State property by anyone. In the Court’s view, the state ethics law was “viewpoint neutral and has been applied uniformly to all employees, including the governor, regardless of party affiliation.”

HGEA contended that its contractual right to post notices and publications on Union bulletin boards within the State buildings was part of a right of employees to engage in collective bargaining protected by the law. The Court demurred, finding that the State collective bargaining law only protected “those concerted activities that are lawful. Because under the circumstances of this case, the posting violates the state ethics law, it is not lawful, and is therefore not protected. A public employer is not free to bargain with respect to a proposal which would authorize a violation of a statute.”

In re Hawaii Government Employees Association, 2007 WL 3349090 (Haw. 2007).

This article appears in the January 2008 issue