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Editorial | On Politics

Unions having hard time speaking with single voice


Remember the old union rallying call, "An injury to one is an injury to all?"

Today, the usually straight-up face of labor in Hawaii is remarkably divided in both its gubernatorial endorsements as public and private sector unions split between Neil Abercrombie and Mufi Hannemann.

Even more telling in this exquisitely close election is the division within two of the big name unions: ILWU and HGEA.

The split between supporters of the two Democrats in the primary race has become so obvious that Randy Perreira, HGEA executive director, has written to all members asking for some union solidarity.

"I realize that this endorsement of Mr. Hannemann has not been universally accepted by our members," Perreira wrote.

He argued that the HGEA’s political action committee and board questioned both candidates and found that "Abercrombie did not clearly respond to questions at the different forums and lacked specifics for how he felt Hawaii should move forward."

Of course, the Hawaii that the HGEA is interested in is one that supports public worker unions, is willing to pay public workers, does not lay off or furlough its members and pays better medical benefits.

That is what the union is for and because of the way collective bargaining works, the union elects its own bosses, so getting an amenable boss is vital.

Still, Perreira was forced to say, "There are members who disagree with this recommendation."

For Perreira to have to write to his members to remind them to vote for the guy he endorsed means there is more than a little trouble down at the union hall.

That is also the case with the private sector ILWU, the union that defined Hawaii’s labor movement more than 50 years ago. The ILWU shook the Abercrombie campaign by endorsing Hannemann, but it also put on display divisions within the union.

If the ILWU defines unions in Hawaii, Yoshito Takamine and his son, state Sen. Dwight Takamine, define the ILWU on the Big Island.

One of the major Big Island union halls is named after Yoshito and the pair has represented the fertile Hamakua Coast since statehood.

They are supporting Abercrombie, along with former ILWU president Eusebio "Bobo" Lapenia.

After the union announced it would support Hannemann, Lapenia resigned from two union-affiliated boards to protest the move, saying Abercrombie had been a longtime supporter of the ILWU.

It is because of divisions such as these that the race for governor has become fascinatingly complex.

What it may mean at the end of this primary season is that an endorsement by some is an endorsement for none.

Richard Borreca writes on politics every Tuesday, Friday and Sunday. Reach him at


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