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Economy dims unions' festivities


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POSTED: Tuesday, September 08, 2009

Public and trade unions in Hawaii celebrated Labor Day as they have for decades at the annual Unity picnic in Waikiki.

But the entertainment, food and fellowship were clouded by concerns over a slowdown in construction and the state budget crisis, which could lead to layoffs and pay cuts for public workers.

Across town the Hawaii Government Employees Association and state negotiators continued an arbitration hearing behind closed doors that could determine furloughs, pay cuts or layoffs for union members.

Up the street, in front of the state Capitol, HGEA members lined both sides of Beretania Street yesterday morning in a show of solidarity. They carried signs saying, “;Fairness for Public Employees”; and “;No Layoffs.”;

;[Preview]  Labor Day Picnic Brings Local Workers Together
 

Hawaii's government workers came together for a Labor Day Picnic during a time when many of their unions are in crisis

Watch ]

 

“;We're calling it our Labor Day unity rally,”; said Mahie Trask, one of the organizers. “;But it's really for our members to support each other.”;

Nancy Ajolo, a United Public Workers union nurse, showed up at the rally with her 4-year-old granddaughter, Mia, to show her support for state workers.

The three other public worker unions are closely monitoring the HGEA hearing, which could also determine what happens with their contracts.

Ajolo said she is directly affected by the contract talks because she has been notified that her position at Pearl Harbor Elementary School is being eliminated. She said her job is being outsourced to private contract workers, and she is being moved to a vacant position at the State Hospital.

“;That's just not right,”; Ajolo said. “;They (her students) never get the same quality. ... The kids need to be able to trust you.”;

Ajolo said she is not sure what her shift will be or how her new position will affect her ability to care for her granddaughter.

Private-sector unions are also having a difficult time because of the economic slowdown.

“;The economy is affecting everybody,”; said Peter Ganaban, business manager of the Laborers' International Union Local 368.

William “;Buzzy”; Hong, executive director of the Hawaii Building and Construction Trades Council, said he hopes the federal economic stimulus bill will lead to more construction projects next year.

Ganaban shared that hope. “;There's a light at the end of the tunnel,”; he said. “;Construction is picking up slowly.”;

Tracy Takano, international representative with the International Longshore and Warehouse Union 142, said families are able to earn a good living in Hawaii because unions are able to negotiate wages and benefits for workers.

“;I think with the state of the economy, it's a good thing we have a strong labor movement,”; Takano said. “;Workers and families need to survive this, too, not just businesses.”;