After speeches at Magic Island, participants in yesterday's labor rally headed out on a parade to Kapiolani Park. The march through Waikiki served as a prelude for the national Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, in which labor supporters will hold rallies in several cities before converging on Washington, D.C.

Labor rally highlights
immigrants’ plight

Isle union members say many
newcomers still suffer exploitation

Local union officials rallied about 1,000 people yesterday for a Labor Day march through Waikiki in support of immigrant workers' rights.

"Discriminating against immigrant workers is discriminating against all workers," Hernando Tan, vice president of the Hawaii State AFL-CIO, said in a speech at Magic Island before the march. He called for legislation to improve the lives of immigrants in Hawaii and across the country.

"Industries in Hawaii and communities in Hawaii were built off the sweat of immigration labor," Tan said.

After the Magic Island rally, members from more than 30 unions, community groups and organizations marched to Kapiolani Park.

The parade served as a prelude for the national Immigrant Workers Freedom Ride, in which participants will board eight buses in different locations around the country for rallies in 80 cities before heading to Washington, D.C., to lobby Congress. Participants then plan to meet in New York on Oct. 4 to rally for new immigration policies.

Hernando Ramos Tan, vice president of the Hawaii State AFL-CIO and a member of Local 5, addressed the crowd yesterday at Magic Island before the group paraded through Waikiki.

Eight Hawaii representatives -- three from the International Longshore and Warehouse Union and five from Local 5 of the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees Union -- are expected to board a bus at Los Angeles near the end of the month.

"There's still a long way to go," said Tan, who will participate in the Freedom Ride.

"I lived through the experience when you were treated differently because you looked different or sound different, and promotions were based on that," said Tan, who migrated to Hawaii from Cebu, Philippines, in 1980. "It's a very degrading feeling."

Participants hope to address four issues: providing a road to citizenship for all immigrant workers, reunification between immigrant workers and their family members, workplace protection for immigrants, and civil liberties for all citizens.

Many immigrants are exploited by their employers and continue to live in intimidation, Tan said. "Like Martin Luther King Jr., we also have a dream. We hope that dream comes true."

Freedom March coordinator Claire Shimabukuro said immigrants, primarily undocumented workers, "live in the shadows in fear of the INS."

These workers contribute to the country's economy, yet they are paid substandard wages, given no benefits and are not provided any workplace protection because of their status, said Shimabukuro.

"Since Sept. 11 there has been a meanness toward anybody that doesn't look American," said Marsha Joyner, president of the Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Coalition of Hawaii. "It was the immigrants, all of us, that have created the America that we have today."

Eric Gill, secretary and treasurer of Local 5, noted, "I think immigrants are frequently targeted and in fact frequently imported for the purpose of being exploited here in this country."

"Immigrant workers come to this country to build a better life. They're honest, hard-working people."

Eusebio Lapenia Jr., president of ILWU Local 142, recalled how his father, who came to the Big Island from the Philippines, worked long hours as a sugar cane worker with low pay and no benefits.

"I can almost feel the hardship," said Lapenia.

Most immigrant workers are still being taken advantage of, he said.


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