Press Release

University of Hawaii Professional Assembly Votes to Join Forces with American Federation of Teachers

For Release:


Alexis Lopez
Nathan Hokama

HONOLULU—The University of Hawaii Professional Assembly board of directors voted unanimously today to affiliate with the largest higher education union—and one of the most influential unions—in the nation, the American Federation of Teachers. The AFT executive council will officially vote to accept the 3,000-member UHPA as an affiliate, a decision that is expected to be made in the coming week, with an effective date sometime in early 2024.

The AFT currently has 1.7 million members. In June 2022, with the affiliation of the American Association of University Professors, the AFT recommitted itself to a more inclusive and powerful academic labor movement, championing students’ freedom to learn, professors’ freedom to teach, and the necessary investments to address academic sustainability, affordability for students, and the precarious and impoverished academic workforce. The AFT represents more than 70 percent of all unionized faculty in higher education in the United States. 

“The UHPA board strongly believes it is a critical time to affiliate with the AFT to benefit our members. Academic freedom and the rights of faculty are increasingly under siege across the nation. Politics interfere with university decisions, and faculty are in the crosshairs,” said David Duffy, president of the UHPA board of directors and principal investigator of numerous botany- and zoology-related research projects that have secured millions of dollars in extramural (nonstate) grants for the University of Hawaii. 

“We also continually face challenges in our state with ongoing, meddlesome legislation that undermines the University of Hawaii’s autonomy and threatens individual faculty and programs—clear violations of our state constitution,” he added.

AFT President Randi Weingarten, who is in Hawaii to meet with the UHPA board of directors, is known for her staunch advocacy for the faculty the union represents and the students the union and its members serve. She doesn’t shy away from confronting difficult issues facing higher education and our democracy. The AFT has been unafraid to air its views on issues affecting faculty nationwide.

“Today’s affiliation is proof positive that while higher education in Hawaii and in states across the country is under attack, faculty are determined to fight back—and to fight forward for the resources, support and voice that they, their students and their institutions need to succeed,” she said. “Higher education is a gateway to opportunity. For that opportunity to be real, academic freedom and campus democracy must be protected, not obstructed. To fight the attacks, we all need new partners. We are indeed stronger together, and the AFT will have UHPA’s back as we work together to ensure that members across all University of Hawaii campuses are treated with the dignity and respect they demand and deserve.”

The AFT has committed its state legislative initiatives department—which works closely with local unions to craft political and legislative campaigns to resist attacks on faculty, union members, tenure, academic freedom, and consistent institutional funding—to work with UHPA. These campaigns this year have included fighting back against anti-higher education; anti-tenure; and anti-diversity, equity and inclusion bills in Florida, Ohio and Texas, as well as funding to defend against attacks on college and university systems in Connecticut and New Jersey. The AFT has also committed the resources that accompany these campaigns. 

“UHPA has demonstrated that we’ve been able to serve our members well over the past decade as an independent union, but now we are upping our game,” said Christian Fern, UHPA executive director. “Our affiliation with the AFT provides us with the resources, knowledge and experience of a respected national union that specializes in serving faculty in higher education. The AFT’s affiliation with AAUP gives us access to the best of both worlds: AAUP’s academic and curricular resources and the AFT’s organizing and bargaining expertise. All the while, UHPA will maintain full autonomy as preserving the autonomy of local affiliates is one of AFT’s core values.” 

“Over the past several months, we conducted our due diligence on the AFT and provided information to UHPA members so that they could freely share their feedback. The UHPA board members, who represent the collective voice of our members, voted based on that feedback,” he added. “The UHPA leadership looks forward to working with the AFT team.” 

Fern added that, through a partnership with the Cornell University School of Industrial and Labor Relations, the AFT will offer UHPA and other affiliates training on the art and science of collective bargaining and contract negotiation.


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The AFT represents 1.7 million pre-K through 12th-grade teachers; paraprofessionals and other school-related personnel; higher education faculty and professional staff; federal, state and local government employees; nurses and healthcare workers; and early childhood educators.