Thursday, April 26, 2001

Hotel workers’ strike
must be averted

The issue: Waikiki hotel workers
are threatening to go on strike during
the Asian Development Bank conference.

THE possibility of a strike by Waikiki hotel workers during the second week in May should send shudders through anyone connected with the upcoming Asian Development Bank conference. That undoubtedly was the intention of union leaders who organized a sidewalk demonstration by union members as a not-so-subtle reminder of that potential.

The point has been made, and management should recognize the importance of reaching an agreement on their employees' labor contract. After two strikes in public education and with the state about to be in the spotlight again with the ADB meeting, Hawaii does not need another visible labor dispute at this time.

Nearly 5,000 members of Local 5 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees International Union have been working for more than a year on an extended master contract encompassing the Hilton Hawaiian Village, the Hyatt Regency Waikiki and the Sheraton Hotels. Local 5 contracts at other hotels are due to expire during the next few months.

More than a thousand Local 5 members marched along Kalakaua Avenue in Waikiki on Tuesday to bring attention to the situation. Tony Rutledge, a member of the union's negotiating committee, said the threat of a strike as some 3,000 people prepare to arrive for the May 7-11 bank conference at the Hawaii Convention Center will be a main point in negotiations with the Hawaii Council of Hotels, which represents management in the master contract.

Law enforcement agencies are gearing up for protests planned for the bank conference, and a hotel workers' strike would be devastating. For the union to threaten such a strike at the worst time possible is boiler-plate negotiating strategy. It would be a mistake, however, for management to ignore the threat and call the union's bluff; it may not be a bluff, especially if management neglects to take it seriously.

Failure to reach an agreement on a new contract since the current one was scheduled to expire March 1, 2000, is deplorable. Tourism has grown in the past year while wages at the hotels covered by the master contract have been stagnant.

Local 5 members at the hotels have the potential of causing a major disruption during a period that already has caused concern about street protests of the Asian Development Bank conference. The scheduling of the conference while hotel labor talks are proceeding certainly strengthens the union's hand.

It should not create a stalemate at the bargaining table and force the union to play that hand at its fullest and most damaging.

Bush budget undermines
his own literacy pledge

The issue: President Bush
plans to cut funds for an
effective literacy program.

Although President Bush has said that improving education is his priority, his budget plan provides no money for a program that promotes literacy among poor children. He instead is diverting those funds for grants to each state, where local education officials will decide how to use the money.

The president's intention is to promote local control but this plan may backfire and should be re-evaluated with an eye to restoring the funds.

In his budget package, Bush has cut all funding for the "inexpensive book distribution," a program fashioned by Congress in 1975. He has said that throwing more money at reading programs has not necessarily produced results.

But the Reading Is Fundamental program is one that works. Since it was founded in 1966, RIF has increased literacy by placing nearly 200 million books in the hands of the nation's neediest children, the ones most at risk in the educational structure. Educators say that when these children have a book of their own, they read it and reading gives them the head start they need in school.

The president is proposing a $5 billion, five-year plan to get all students reading by the time they reach the third grade. For a mere $23 million -- the amount RIF received in federal funds this year -- he would already have a program that operates mainly through the 360,000 volunteers. They form a grassroots network that encompasses every state and extends to U.S. territories.

RIF, the nation's largest children's and family literacy organization, has even been supported by the president's mother, Barbara, and by his wife, Laura. The elder Mrs. Bush is an honorary member of RIF's National Advisory Council and the first lady is a former adviser who participated in the program's Read Across America Day last month.

RIF provides about 75 percent of the funding for most local chapters, but gives 100 percent of funding to programs for especially disadvantaged children, such as migrant workers and those in homeless shelters. RIF could apply for a portion of the state grant funds, but it receives big discounts by buying books in large quantities and would not be able to do so with the smaller state grants.

Putting control over the grants in the hands of state officials is a dicey proposition; unless the money is earmarked for literacy programs, local officials may use the money for other purposes.

Teaching children to read should be a national priority. To eliminate funds for such programs is to abandon poor children and is not consistent with the president's own pledge to leave no child behind.

Published by Oahu Publications Inc., a subsidiary of Black Press.

Don Kendall, President

John Flanagan, publisher and editor in chief 529-4748;
Frank Bridgewater, managing editor 529-4791;
Michael Rovner,
assistant managing editor 529-4768;
Lucy Young-Oda, assistant managing editor 529-4762;

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