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Editorial | On Politics

Unions have buyer’s remorse after voting for Abercrombie

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That great alliance between Gov. Neil Abercrombie and organized labor is just not happening.

Instead of growing closer, the gap between Abercrombie and the state’s public employee unions appears to be widening.

For the candidate who was always welcomed in the labor tent, Abercrombie’s relationship with the leadership of several public unions is now shaky.

This is important because Abercrombie can only realistically govern by keeping the traditional Democratic allies with him.

In an election year, such at 2012, it is especially important for Abercrombie to enjoy the ability to talk comfortably with labor and for labor to have an open door to the Capitol’s fifth floor.

If Abercrombie and the public unions are on the same page, he can win union support for his legislative proposals. In simple terms, it means lawmakers questioning the value in backing an Abercrombie plan would be comforted to know the big public unions are on board.

Today, it is just the opposite at the state’s biggest union: The Hawaii Government Employees Association is not riding with Abercrombie. In fact, it looks like it doesn’t want to be in the same station with Abercrombie.

In a strongly worded article in the HGEA newsletter, Randy Perreira, HGEA executive director, says Abercrombie is out of touch and HGEA relations with the governor are worsening.

“Sadly, not much has changed since the past administration (of former Gov. Linda Lingle). In fact, in some ways, things have gotten worse,” Perreira said.

That is a serious charge because Lingle and the HGEA were mutually distrustful of each other.

Perreira now sees the Abercrombie administration forgetting about labor. He says Abercrombie has abandoned labor, while pursuing a balanced budget.

He says that the union rank and file is no longer able to afford the increased medical insurance payments and some have had to put their children on a MedQuest program.

“It is unthinkable and shameful that full-time government employees would be put into such a dilemma to consider public assistance to make ends meet,” Perreira wrote.

According to Perreira, next year Abercrombie’s budget-balancing plans “will continue to target cuts to public employee benefits.”

“He continues to prove how out of touch with reality he is about the economic demands on government employees.”

To be fair, there is a bit of a disconnect in Perreira’s reasoning as he says, “We thought the governor would recognize the need for increased revenue and would not resort to draconian costcutting. We were wrong.”

Abercrombie actually was equally at home with attempts to raise taxes as he was with cutting costs. In fact, he was quick to blame the unions for not doing more to help during the legislative session.

Back in March, Abercrombie said, “We must pass a plan with sufficient new tax revenues that commits everyone to do their fair share. When we do, we will be on the road to recovery in two years, maybe less.

“We cannot get bogged down by the petty political story of the day. We can’t be stuck in the weeds, bickering over details, pointing fingers at each other.”

It appears that instead of mending fences and making peace, Abercrombie and the unions spent the summer out there in the weeds. The bickering and finger pointing has just started.

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