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Tuesday, November 25, 2014         

UNDER THE SUN


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Yes, stuff happens, but let's not overreact and preclude civil discussion

By Cynthia Oi

POSTED:



If her constituents could have harnessed the flaming vitriol Kymberly Pine unleashed when the power went out in her district last week, they might have had plenty of thermal energy to keep the lights on.

The House member called down shame on Hawaiian Electric Co.'s employees whose union made the blundering decision to strike just when their skills were urgently needed.

Cooler heads would have had a less hostile take on the problem, but Pine seemed to have been caught up in the moment and unreasonably placed blame for the bad turn of events fully on the unionized workers, calling them "selfish" and their actions "completely unacceptable."

By pointing her finger solely at employees, Pine further fed the fire others have set in attempting to demonize workers who are represented by labor organizations, giving a bullhorn to a loose-lipped minority whose capacity to be nasty seems boundless.

Cooler heads would have made sure health care services and emergency agencies were alerted to the needs of ailing residents. They would have checked to see that the police department had enough officers on scene to prevent traffic accidents, which was a concern for Pine's legislative colleague, Sen. Will Espero, who reported irresponsible drivers speeding through intersections without functioning signals.

Espero kept his remarks civil, but he put the onus on Gov. Neil Abercrombie to intervene in the dispute. Maybe Espero thought a mere senator would not have had much sway, but there would have been no downside to his making calls to both parties.

A strike by public utility workers across three of Hawaii's four counties is worrisome. Even more unsettling is why state and county leaders weren't keeping track of talks between the power brokers and workers. Though Hawaiian Electric Industries is a private entity that "supplies electricity to 95 percent of Hawaii's population," according to its website, the company is subject to public regulations and oversight.

By the time the storm hit last week, there were already dark clouds on the horizon. The union last month had taken a strike vote. It had also rejected a contract proposal that members saw as a step back instead of at least maintaining the status quo. Meanwhile, the company had contracted an outside workforce in preparation.

None of this seems to have registered on leaders' radar.

Now, with a possible end to the strike in sight, Pine could turn her undoubtedly genuine concern to get answers to some questions. Among them are why nearly two dozen utility poles were felled by the relatively moderate storm and whether restoring power completely took the company almost three days because of union workers' absence.

Pine, Espero, other lawmakers, the Public Utilities Commission and the governor would do well to examine the outage, not to place blame, but for prevention. There will be bigger storms.

Pine chided the striking workers, saying despite the impasse, "They have an obligation to help people first." As a public official, she, too, has obligations, one of them being to chill and muffle the shrill.

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Cynthia Oi can be reached at coi@staradvertiser.com.





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