Local 1463 of the Fire Fighters Association endorsed Mayor Jeremy Harris for re-election. Senate President Norman Mizuguchi, U.S. Reps. Neil Abercrombie and Patsy Mink, and Sen. Daniel Akaka attended a conference that represents 225,000 firefighters and emergency personnel nationwide.
Abercrombie urged the 3,000 delegates to make sure a Democratic Congress is elected.Akaka said he will continue to champion firefighter issues in Congress. For local and national candidates, endorsements are crucial to winning elections.
"I don't think you can run for any office here when you have a union on your neck," said Phyllis Turnbull, a political science assistant professor at the University of Hawaii.
Unions give campaign money and votes to political candidates for influence afterward, she said. Influence in workers compensation legislation, health and safety regulations and taxes are all part of the exchange, Turnbull added.
A union endorsement for a candidate also impresses isle voters. Turnbull said it turns off a few people who hate unions but appear positive by the majority.
"On the whole, the people interested in union matters, working class, will say 'Oh yeah, he's our kind of guy'," she added.
Hawaii has the second highest percentage of union membership - 29 percent of the population - behind New York, said political analyst Dan Boylan, a professor of history at UH-West Oahu.
There are more than 80 union locals in Hawaii.
He's noticed that this election year, union endorsements have become increasingly important as Hawaii candidates are scrambling to get as many as possible.
"There's not a lot of money around and less money to campaign with this year," Boylan said.
Boylan noted that endorsements by big unions like the United Public Workers, International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union and Hawaii Government Employees Association are main attractions.
White-collar unions like HGEA are key because members tend to be better educated and more likely to vote, whereas blue-collar unions have more members but don't vote as well, he said.
It's also not uncommon that loyal union members will vote based directly on the union's entire list of suggested candidates instead of comparing running mates individually.
"It happens all the time, particularly in races, not high profile, no news coverage - Board of Education, House or Senate," Boylan said.
A group endorsement verifies that the organization approves what a particular candidate is in favor of or will do for them.
Many unions do the safe thing by backing incumbents or candidates more likely to win, he said, adding it's a risk for unions to back challengers. "Then they can say, we backed you. Here's what we need, take it easy on our membership."
Boylan observed that in this election campaign, the unions are using their endorsement to send a message to Gov. Ben Cayetano about his actions of cutting positions, of payroll lag and discussion of furlough. "They are going on with a passion, swinging behind Mayor Harris instead of Gov. Cayetano's candidate (Arnold Morgado)."
Hawaii Government Employees Association: About 39,000 members; Mayor Jeremy Harris
International Longshoremen's and Warehousemen's Union Local 142: 25,000 members; Harris, David Arakawa for city prosecutor.
United Public Workers: 14,000 members; Harris, Arakawa and state Sens. Donna Ikeda and Milton Holt
Hawaii State Teachers Association: 11,500 members: U.S. Reps. Patsy Mink and Neil Abercrombie, Mizuguchi and state Sens. Ikeda and Holt
Carpenters Union Local 745: 7,500 members; Harris, Mink and Abercrombie
Operating Engineers, Local 2: 3,500 members; Harris
State of Hawaii Organization of Police Officers: 3,200 members; Harris and Randal Yoshida for city prosecutor
University of Hawaii Professional Assembly: 3,200 members; Harris
International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers, Local 1357: 2,200 members; Harris