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Some Local Labor Unions Up For Uncertain Year Ahead

Wayne Yoshioka

Some of Hawai’i’s major labor unions are gearing up for a tough year ahead. HPR’s Wayne Yoshioka reports.

Unite Here Local 5 continues to help hotel workers organize and join a union. Local 5 political director, Cade Watanabe, says nearly half of hospitality industry workers in Waikiki are non-union.


Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Cade Watanabe, Local 5 political director

“Forty-eight percent of them work in a job that pays $4 to $6 an hour less.  Non-union workers have no pension, they pay extreme amounts for their medical.  And the disparity in terms of the wage gap is extremely large.  It’s real.”


Local 5 has 11-thousand members.  Ninety percent of these members have contracts that expire in 2018.  The U-S Supreme Court is also set to rule in the Janus versus the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees Council 31 case.  The nation’s highest court will decide if public sector or government unions can continue to collect dues from non-members who do not wish to join the union.  State House of Representatives Labor and Public Employment Committee chair, Aaron Ling Johanson, says the ruling is expected to side with workers who want to opt out of union membership.  He says state legislation will be limited.


Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Rep. Aaron Ling Johanson

“I think there are things that might give emergency rule-making authority, either to the Labor Relations Board or just in general if we needed to react.  There are ways that we can take a look at how we safeguard some of the rights we think are very important, to the extent that it does not conflict with the Supreme Court’s decision.”


The Hawai’i Government Employees Association, with 42-thousand members, is waiting for the Supreme Court decision expected before June.  But, State Senator Karl Rhoads says the federal court’s ruling will have a negative impact in Hawai’i.


Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Senator Karl Rhoads

“There is a certain visceral appeal to saying I shouldn’t have to pay money into something if I don’t want to.  But the fact is that when you pull your money out of an endeavor that you’re being benefited, it’s not really fair for people who stay and cover your costs as well.  I think that it will weaken public sector labor unions significantly and in the long run, that’s not a good thing.”


Meanwhile, Local 5’s Watanabe, says tourism revenue is at a historic high and 2018 will be a critical year for Hawai’i’s labor unions and the future of working women and men.


Credit Wayne Yoshioka
Ten Thousand Local 5 union members are in for contract negotiations in 2018

“My grandfather worked in the sugar plantation when he was 13 years old.  When he retired in his 60’s, he had a pension, he was able to help to send his 3 kids to school in California.  He was able to buy a home.  He was even able to buy a boat and live and work and support a family in Hawai’i.  How many families are able to do that today.  I’m not able to.”


For HPR News, I’m Wayne Yoshioka.

Wayne Yoshioka
Wayne Yoshioka is an award-winning journalist who has worked in television, print and radio in Hawaiʻi. He also has been on both sides of politics as a state departmental appointee and political/government reporter. He covered Hurricane Iwa (1982) as a TV reporter; was the State Department of Defense/Civil Defense spokesperson for Hurricane Iniki (1992); and, commanded a public affairs detachment in Afghanistan (2006). He has a master's degree in Communication from the University of Hawaiʻi at Mānoa and is a decorated combat veteran (Legion of Merit, Bronze Star and 22 other commendation/service medals). He resides in Honolulu.
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