Unions take their case to the public


POSTED: Wednesday, June 24, 2009

The state's four public worker unions are starting a low-key public relations campaign to win support while they fight Gov. Linda Lingle's call for 36-day-a-year furloughs.

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The unions have launched a person-to-person campaign with union members giving merchants a business card explaining that their purchases are possible because of their state paychecks. The implication is that if the paycheck is cut, spending will drop and merchants will be hurt.

The idea is in line with recent statements by University of Hawaii economists Carl Bonham and Byron Ganges, who predicted that the furloughs, which translate into a 13.8 percent pay cut, will reduce spending in the state by $500 million.

“;We are doing our part to support Hawaii's economy,”; the cards read. “;Thank you for supporting us in return!”;

So far, union leaders and members say the response has been positive.

“;I think it is a very effective way to get the point across,”; said J.N. Musto, University of Hawaii Professional Assembly executive director. “;It takes merchants by surprise and it is very noticeable.”;

Musto said all four unions are participating.

Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association, said the union will have to work to sell the campaign.

“;We know the stereotype of government employees is not a favorable one,”; Perreira said.

Out of their many encounters with the government, people tend to remember “;the one time they were treated rudely by a government employee,”; he said. “;And given the fact that public employees are paid with tax dollars, it is an uphill fight.”;

Union members handing out the cards report success.

Mililani High School science teacher Andy Snow has been handing out cards for two weeks.

“;I tell them that all public workers want to remind members of the community that public workers are a large part of the community,”; Snow said.

As a teacher for 16 years Snow takes home about $2,800 a month, but calculates that the furlough pay cuts and increased cost of medical insurance will cut $900 from that.

“;That is huge. It strains my ability to pay rent, buy gas. I would have to ask if I can afford to go to the gym. I certainly won't be going to Genki Sushi anymore,”; he said.

On the Big Island, Toni Reynolds, who has taught elementary school there for six years, says she is handing out the cards and hoping they will make an impact.

“;My husband is a contractor and he has been unemployed since December,”; said Reynolds, who taught in California for 20 years before moving here. “;I am very scared, and that's why I'm prompted to action.”;

She has dropped off the cards while shopping and at places like Starbucks, Reynolds said. “;They are very sympathetic and they know where I am coming from. The 14 percent cut is severe. It is enough to make people lose their homes.”;