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Thursday, April 20, 2000

By Dennis Oda, Star-Bulletin
Susie Uwekoolani, left, and Frances Segundo, center,
hold HGEA signs and the U.S. flag at the state Capitol
yesterday as they want the union workers' rally below.
They both flew in from Maui just to attend the rally.
Michael Mook, displaying a "No cuts" sign, is
standing next to them.

Thousands of
union supporters
in rally against
civil-service reform

The Capitol gathering
is the biggest in years

Panel supports union raises

By Rob Perez


AFTER taking a city bus to the state Capitol, Hildre Herrera stood at the corner of Punchbowl and Beretania streets in the afternoon sun and waived a sign to support labor's fight against civil-service reform.

Herrera isn't even a union member. But the private school teacher joined several thousand other union supporters and members yesterday in a show of political force that hasn't been seen at the Capitol in years.

The solidarity rally, drawing many people who came in chartered buses, was held to warn legislators not to take away rights and benefits of public employees.

Just a few yards from Herrera, county wastewater worker Todd Cazinha beckoned support from passing motorists. He too had a warning for legislators.

"You don't cut from your working people," Cazinha said as fellow union members waived signs and small U.S. flags on either side of Beretania. "You should be looking to cut from the top down."

As the Legislature prepares to make critical decisions on key reform bills over the next week-and-a-half, a stream of speakers at yesterday's rally urged the crowd to stick together to defeat any efforts to undo collective-bargaining gains made over the past three decades.

"Those who are against us want to reduce us to nothing," said Gary Rodrigues, head of the United Public Workers.

Some called yesterday's demonstration -- about 6,000 strong by union estimates and the largest rally at the Capitol since the 1994 government workers strike -- a celebration of the rebirth of Hawaii's labor movement. Some also used the occasion to urge legislators to approve funding for pay raises awarded by an arbitration panel.

Sam Slom, a Republican senator from East Honolulu, had another take. He said the union actions were divisive and based on greed and a desire for even more power.

"I'm not talking about the rank-and-file union members. I'm talking about the union leaders," said Slom, R-Hawaii Kai-Aina Haina.

"All they know how to do is to extort and hijack and get money from other people. That has got to end. We've got to have civil service and collective bargaining reform and we can do so without taking benefits and promises away from existing workers."

A coalition of public- and private-sector unions organized yesterday's rally to coincide with the start of conference committee meetings between House and Senate members. The members are meeting to try to work out compromises on bills in which the two chambers have passed different versions.

For a bill to pass this session, it must be approved by the conference committees by the end of next week and then approved by the full Legislature before the scheduled May 2 adjournment.

The key bills the unions have in their sights include measures to overhaul the way government operates, to change how health benefits are purchased and to build a privately operated prison.

The Cayetano administration is pushing all three in an effort to cut costs and make government more efficient. But many of the speakers at yesterday's rally characterized such attempts as threats to the labor movement and to public employees in Hawaii.

"You are fighting for this for your entire family," U.S. Rep. Patsy Mink told the crowd.

Union officials said yesterday's turnout shows that union members, not just the leaders, are united in their opposition.

Away from the rally, though, some were skeptical on whether yesterday's showing reflected the views of the majority of Hawaii residents.

Beverly Harbin, a small business owner who is lobbying for civil service reform, said many other small business owners view reform as a way to reduce the cost of government, which would reduce the cost of doing business here. The unions "are looking at civil service reform as taking away jobs and punishing workers ... I don't think anybody in their right mind believes that's what it's all about," Harbin said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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