Updated: May 20
Throughout history there have been many attempts at creating governments where citizens had the power and control. They were based on self-rule, free & fair elections, and separation of government powers. We call these types of governments “Democracies.” From Ancient Mesopotamia to Athens, Rome, and now the modern democracies such as the United States, the idea that citizens should have the power over their government as a majority, while protecting the rights of the minority, has flourished time and time again.
A fundamental factor with democracy is the participation of the citizens. Because when the people are engaged, they are able to bring the changes necessary within society to ensure that they, and others, have a fair chance at what President Thomas Jefferson explained where the right to “Life, Liberty & the Pursuit of Happiness.” But when the citizens are no long actively participating in government it causes the very pillars on which democracy is built to weaken and crack. Leading to governments of consolidated power within the hands of a few.
This can be said about our modern-day labor and public sector unions as well. With workforce participation in unions at a low point of around 10%, (U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics, 2020), we find that across the nation anti-union campaigns are creating footholds and trying to further strip union influence. Without worker participation we risk giving up our collective power in the workplace and allowing for the employers to have full dominant control of the conversation. And we can see this happening before our very eyes here in Hawaii.
The current proposals that Governor Ige presented which include pay cuts for public workers are just another example of an attack on unions and workers. Suggesting that our already struggling workers can have their pay cut is such an out of touch, elitist, and disgusting proposition. But where are the elected officials who have time and time again been endorsed by unions? Are they publicly standing up for our workers? If not, does this not show how they truly feel?
Just like a healthy democracy needs citizens to elect representatives who have their best interests in mind, unions need to do the same. Hold elected officials accountable. Here we are in a critical time for struggling workers with the Governor proposing disastrous pay cuts and it does not seem like anyone is standing up for us, for unions. The only ones who have publicly defended workers are Senator Schatz, Congressman Ed Case, and State Senator Kai Kahele. While there was a joint Senate & House leadership press release saying they oppose the proposal the last sentence in that release basically says they will work with the Governor on whatever decision he makes.
On April 15th HGEA, HSTA and other unions began pushing out information about the Governor’s proposal to cut pay. Within hours the story was in the news and various social media platforms were on fire with people across the state commenting and sharing. The Governor’s office was bombarded with calls and e-mails. I personally e-mailed and shared information via my social media pages. At one point the Governor’s office had turned their phone off. Then, due to the immense backlash, Governor Ige put out an e-mail and video message to public workers. However, we (I am a public worker) were not having it. The pressure continued. At the same time, constituents were calling their elected officials and demanding they oppose the Governor. This is why we saw the quick press release from Senate & House leadership.
Workers stood together. Unions stood together. When we stand together, we get results. While this current battle over Governor Ige’s proposed cuts still rages we have already begun to win by having unions, workers, and nonunion members, coming together to voice their opposition and by putting pressure on the Governor. Together we are a powerful force. Now imagine if we had elected officials publicly standing up with us.
Why is it that the workers here in Hawaii always seem to be first up on the chopping block? Why are elected officials across the board not being held accountable for their failures to create economic policies that support the working class? How much longer can the working class of Hawaii withstand low wages and high costs of living? Why are elected officials authorizing their own $10k salary increases, but not passing a minimum wage increase for our workers?
As a Union Steward I pride myself on standing up for fellow workers and would do so for anyone. Together we all deserve fair wages & benefits. We all deserve a voice in our workplaces. We all deserve a good quality of life.
I’m running for State House of Representatives, District 29, because not only do I feel our community is not being properly represented, but I do not feel like the working class has a voice in the State House, and our current situation makes me realize even more that workers need someone to stand up for them. I will be that voice. I will support PLAs, better pay, protect retirements and push back against any “Right-to-Work” legislation. I will be available to the community, to workers, and to unions as needed. An e-mail, voicemail, text, or letter should never go unanswered no matter who it’s from.