Hawaii workers
can celebrate this
Labor Day


Hawaii's unemployment rate is low, and the economy is growing as islanders enjoy a brief time-out from the job on this holiday weekend.

LABOR Day finds Hawaii with enviable unemployment numbers as a steady economy has ripened to create new jobs. Although 3 percent of the state's workforce remains without positions, the post-9/11 plunge has largely been nullified as the construction, tourism and other key industries have resumed growth.

So residents firing up hibachis to grill hot dogs and teriyaki chicken for beachside picnics and backyard barbecues today have reason to celebrate even though the nation as a whole has yet to recover fully.

As the holiday weekend began, the Labor Department reported that the pace of job creation ticked up by 144,000 last month, although at a subdued tempo that falls short of the number needed to absorb a growing corps of workers. Unemployment fell from 5.5 percent in July to 5.4 percent, a drop indicating a prevailing weakness in the economy.

Nonetheless, the data allowed President Bush enough room to declare that the days of "prosperity and opportunity" have returned even as Sen. John Kerry, the Democratic nominee in this year's presidential contest, continued to point to the overall loss of 1 million jobs as reason enough to end Bush's White House tenure.

Claims and counterclaims aside, Americans today face an employment scene that is affected more and more by a global marketplace, lower pay scales and fewer benefits and corporate interests with political muscle to change workplace rules.

Outsourcing remains a worker's nightmare as a spectrum of jobs from manufacturing to hi-tech migrate overseas. Fewer jobs means employers have the clout to pinch pennies while a business-friendly administration shifts regulations on overtime.

This last development has provoked considerable controversy as it allows companies to tweak employees' responsibilities that could deny as many as 6 million workers overtime pay protection. Among those who may take a hit are nurses, low-salaried supervisors, assistant managers and restaurant workers, anyone who oversees as few as one other employee or who has minor decision-making duties. A good number of workers in Hawaii are buffered from the new rules by their union contracts.

Nationally, labor unions have watched their political clout diminish along with their membership from a high of 34 percent of the work force 50 years ago to single digits today.

In Hawaii, organized labor is still a force to be reckoned with in politics; its long-standing alliance with the Democrats continues despite the 2002 election of Lingle Lingle, the first Republican governor in 40 years. Lingle tested labor's grip during the last legislative session, when she vetoed a bill reinstating mandatory arbitration of public worker contracts. The overwhelmingly Democratic Legislature promptly overrode her veto.

Organized labor has won valuable benefits for working people in Hawaii and is responsible for a blooming middle class in what was once a plantation society where power and wealth were held by a few. That social structure is long gone, and the majority of today's workers have little or no memory of the inequities of the past. In fact, for today's young workers, unions represent the establishment, a circumstance their grandparents would likely find difficult to fathom.

This holiday marks a respite for Americans, the world's workaholics who put in more hours on the job than people in any other industrialized nation. It is a time to kick back with families and friends and enjoy a break from the daily grind.




Oahu Publications, Inc. publishes the Honolulu Star-Bulletin, MidWeek and military newspapers

David Black, Dan Case, Dennis Francis,
Larry Johnson, Duane Kurisu, Warren Luke,
Colbert Matsumoto, Jeffrey Watanabe,

Dennis Francis, Publisher

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