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Monday, March 27, 2000

Legislature 2000


Unions’ alliance
against state reform
draws scrutiny of
schools, business

Winners and losers

By Richard Borreca


In the next two months, Hawaii's unions will find out just how much clout they command.

After years of having a virtual lock on labor legislation in the state Legislature, Hawaii's public employees are faced with proposals from Gov. Ben Cayetano that would radically change the unions' power.

"Labor is under siege, this is a threat to everyone," said Russell Okata, Hawaii Government Employees Association executive director.

Fearing that Cayetano's plans will permanently damage labor's power to bargain with the state, public employees are in the middle of a lobbying campaign that stretches from newspaper and television ads to personal phone calls and email to individual legislators.

"Their lobbying is extremely effective: They have an excellent network, they have telephone trees, email trees, and they know who their members are, what districts they live in and how to reach them quickly," says John Friedman, president of the Hawaii State Parent and Teachers Association.

Friedman's group is supporting Cayetano and the public schools' attempt to increase "accountability" in the schools.

Opponents argue that the schools already incorporate accountability in their management structure.

Unions have long used their rank-and-file members as personal lobbyists, and this year the one-on-one approach is proving effective.

House Speaker Calvin Say reported being swamped with letters, faxes and emails.

The ones from his own district are personally answered, he said.

Over in the Senate, Bob Nakata, chairman of the labor committee, added that mail from people in a home district is particularly important.

"After all, they are the people who elected us in the first place," Nakata said.

Thad Tomei, president of the Hawaii State AFL-CIO, described this year's labor fight as "very serious business for every working person in Hawaii." Consequently, the public workers unions have enlisted the support of the state's private workers unions. That linkage, announced last week, bolstered the union lobbying effort to more than 100,000 from about 40,000.

Terry Lau, director of the AFL-CIO committee on political education, saw Cayetano's actions as unifying "the house of labor."

"It is not just about the bill, it is labor unity," he said.

To drive home that point, the unions plan a massive rally April 19 at the state Capitol. Lau declined to put a figure on the size of the crowd, but estimates range from 1,000 to 10,000.

Huge rallies have become a hallmark of labor lobbying, and Speaker Say noted that they get the point across.

"They have a lasting impression," he said.

"It shows the unity, and adding the private unions raises the level."

Also watching the muscle flexing are private business groups, who figure that labor victories will carry over to the private sector.

Tim Ho, executive director of the Hawaii Employers Council, said the move to reform state civil service rules "has an impact on the community and through job conditions and wages."

Unlike others, however, the employers council is not an active lobbyist.

For the union lobbyists, however, after the emails and letters, after the personal calls and after the rally, there is a final pressure point to be squeezed: the fall elections.

"Any labor organization that based its support for legislators on collective bargaining has to think twice," said John Radcliffe, assistant director of the University of Hawaii Professional Assembly.



Bullet Robert Bunda: The senator is recuperating from a successful quadruple coronary bypass at Queen's Hospital on March 17. His doctor says he'll return to legislative duty soon.
Bullet Sam Slom and Rep. Galen Fox:
The Republican legislators are on the winning end of a tiff with Gov. Ben Cayetano, who criticizes them for not supporting the administration's plans to allow commercial boating at two boat harbors -- sunk by the Senate.
Bullet Public employees unions:
More than 60 private-sector unions join in endorsing the public union position in the battle against civil service reform.

. . . & LOSERS

Bullet Hawaii drivers: A state administration bill would eliminate any further car insurance savings by offsetting future cuts with requiring higher minimum coverages.
Bullet Hawaii's major banks:
The state Tax Department comes out on the winning end of a battle with the banks over taxes owed on imported services. A bill to exempt the banks is still under consideration at the Legislature.
Bullet Ben Cayetano:
The governor loses support in the Senate in his bid to quickly consolidate the state's high-tech agencies into a single agency.

This feature by Richard Borreca runs
Mondays throughout the legislative session.

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