“I know the value of my union”
After dominating the island coaching scene, the opportunities are endless for Reggie Torres. Still, the educational assistant (EA) and Unit 3 member is happy where he’s at. Kahuku High School’s most recognizable coach has been running the school’s In School Suspension (ISS) and lockout programs for the past 22 years. “Oh, jeez, this isn’t just a job with paperwork. It’s for the kids. It’s helping the kids,” he says.
Most of the students in ISS or lockout are there for offenses ranging from insubordination to tardiness, but Torres doesn’t see this as a place to dole out harsh discipline. It’s an opportunity for him to rehabilitate and educate. “This is more than just babysitting,” he says with a laugh. “It’s a chance to look at a situation, and try to find a solution. I don’t like to be the mean guy. A lot of these kids come in and say ‘aww, coach, sorry, I’m late again’ or ‘I missed the bus, I’m sorry, uncle.’ It’s not about chewing them out. They know they did something wrong and now they have a chance to make it right.”
Prior to gaining permanent status as a state employee, Torres was among a small group of individuals selected to develop a pilot program aimed at rehabilitating troubled students. Although Torres helped ISS evolve into a statewide program, 22 years later, he admits it isn’t always easy. “I see a lot of kids that give me trouble. So I try to counsel them and get them to think more about what’s coming down the road instead of just focusing on what they wanna do right now,” he says. “And so many of these kids come back 10, 20 years later and go ‘eh, coach! You should see what I’m doing now — I’m so much better,’ and that’s what this is all about,” he says heartily, adding, “some of the things I say hits home, and sometimes it doesn’t. But if we have the chance to guide someone back to doing the right thing for their future, we gotta try.”
Although ISS has become an institutional fixture at many schools, Torres knows his position could be eliminated at any time. “At Kahuku, my position is a bought position. If they decide they don’t want the position, they don’t have to buy it, and just like that, I’m out,” he says, explaining that recent changes at the legislature now grant public schools the authority to budget at their own discretion. Not one to be easily discouraged, Torres spoke to his steward and fellow Unit 3 member and HGEA state board director, Alison Juliano, who reassured him that his job was protected by our union. “If it wasn’t for Alison, I wouldn’t know any of this contract language. But now that I do, I’m good to go.”
In today’s economy, it’s not unusual for public employees to have a second job. Torres has the same employer for two different jobs — educational assistant and high school athletics coach. The only, and arguably largest, difference is that one job is unionized and the other is not. “I’ve always been in a union (as an EA), but I never thought I’d need the union. I did my job and no one ever gave me problems,” he begins. “Then a few years ago, new administration came in and messed with a lot of people on campus — teachers, EAs, athletic coaches in particular. At the time I was still head football coach (as well as wrestling and judo), but they made us all reapply.” Having already completed his exit interview after a winning football season, Torres wasn’t expecting any major changes. “I had great evaluations, and then during the re-application process, they hired someone else,” he says, referring to the football coaching position. “I found out when I saw it on the news. I couldn’t do anything, because as coaches, we’re not in a union. The only reason they could do it is because we don’t have any union support.”
Although he no longer coaches football at Kahuku High School, Torres’ confidence in our union allows him peace of mind while he continues his job as educational assistant, coaches wresting and judo during the school year and oversees various athletic programs during the summer. “That’s the thing about unions,” he says. “They know more about our rights in the workplace than we do. It’s our jobs and our quality of life that they’re protecting. And we need the protection.”