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Abercrombie vows support for unions

  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Dennis Tynan, center, let out a cheer with Hawaii State Teachers Staff Organization members Andrea Eshelman, left, and Joann Ogawa at the “Stand in Solidarity” rally yesterday at the state Capitol.
  • BRUCE ASATO / BASATO@STARADVERTISER.COM
    Hotel workers showed up in force for yesterday’s “Stand in Solidarity” rally at the state Capitol, joining other union members and community activists in a demonstration supporting workers’ rights. Similar rallies were held across the country to mark the 43rd anniversary of the assassination of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.
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Gov. Neil Abercrombie had a message for the members of more than 20 unions who filled the state Capitol courtyard yesterday: Union support is in the governor’s blood.

Holding up a small, faded card, Abercrombie read to the crowd laminated proof of his labor roots: In October 1970 he was registered member 0060 of the American Federation of Teachers Local 2003, operating out of Room 324 of University of Hawaii-Manoa’s Moore Hall — the first time he worked for the collective bargaining rights of teachers.

Abercrombie said his mother often spoke of union solidarity after being fired from her own teaching job after her marriage to his father. The governor said that she and other teachers like her in Buffalo, N.Y., then lacked the collective bargaining rights that would have protected her job.

The governor spoke to hundreds of union members yesterday, gathering in a show of solidarity for union rights in conjunction with similar rallies nationwide honoring the life of the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. on the 43rd anniversary of his assassination.

TO UNION workers like Anna Simeona, a 17-year member of the United Public Workers union, recent events serve as a reminder that the rights unions have fought for, like collective bargaining, are fragile in Republican-led states like Wisconsin and Ohio, where lawmakers have passed laws to restrict their use.

“They’re gonna poke you for your sick leave, they’re gonna poke you for your vacation and they’re gonna poke you for your medical benefits,” Simeona told union workers. “Not only that, but they’re gonna poke you for four freaking years.

“I don’t know about you guys, but I think that’s going to hurt,” she said. Simeona said that with union solidarity comes power — enough to be able to, as she put it, “run the state.” But she acknowledged that running the state while Hawaii faces a shortfall of $1.3 billion requires difficult solutions.

“There’s a lot of different ways of being creative,” Simeona said. She said she wants lawmakers to look into things like gambling and legalizing marijuana. An increase in the state’s general excise tax is another option.

Without a tax increase, “a lot of people are going to get hurt,” Simeona said. “A lot of people are going to lose their jobs. We’re cutting so much benefits.”

Many speakers spoke to that message yesterday.

Randy Perreira, executive director of the Hawaii Government Employees Association and president of AFL-CIO Hawaii, said that state budgets “cannot be balanced on the backs of our workers and seniors.”

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