To Our Readers

By John Flanagan

Saturday, May 1, 1999

Unions hold
political reins

HAWAII has a higher percentage of union workers than any other state. UH's Center for Labor Education and Research puts the number of union jobs in the isles at 26.5 percent or roughly 130,000 of the total -- more than a percent higher than New York's 25.4. New Jersey (22 percent), Michigan (21.6 percent) and Washington (21.2 percent) round out the top five.

This is strange company. Only 8 percent of all Hawaii jobs -- about 43,000 -- are in agriculture, manufacturing or construction. The other 489,000 are in service industries: trade, tourism and government. Our labor picture, with its hotels, campuses, malls and office towers, doesn't gibe with the industrial landscapes of Buffalo, Hackensack and Detroit or the mammoth production lines at Boeing. Still, it's a picture of extraordinary success and power.

A reader of our online edition wrote to ask why we make such a big deal about unions in Hawaii. Well, let's do the math. In the last election, about 411,000 people voted in the race for governor. If the unions got all their members out, their 130,000 votes would not be a mere 26.5 percent; rather, they'd be 32 percent of all voters.

Ben Cayetano won with 49.5 percent of the vote last year. Unions could have provided up to 64 percent of his support, two votes out of three. Moreover, that number excludes retirees, voting spouses and family members of union workers.

That's the statewide picture --union membership and power is much more concentrated in many legislative districts.

Cayetano said the 14-11 Senate vote against confirming Attorney General Margery Bronster was "an indication of how difficult it is to make change in this state. I've said this to Democrats before, to members of my party, that the Republicans are insignificant at this particular point. We need to make the changes ourselves."

In Hawaii, organized labor, not the GOP, is the second political party. So much for donkeys and elephants.

John Flanagan is editor and publisher of the Star-Bulletin.
To reach him call 525-8612, fax to 523-8509, send
e-mail to or write to
P.O. Box 3080, Honolulu, Hawaii 96802.

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