Brothers and sisters, fellow delegates, staff and guests - welcome to our Hawai‘i State AFL-CIO 24th
First, let me thank and acknowledge you for your continued service and leadership to the Labor Movement, and support of the Hawai‘i State AFL-CIO. Your commitment to help working families is commendable, and I thank you on their behalf.
I would also like to thank all of you for your undying support for my tenure as your president. I realize that many times I don't live up to your expectations, but nevertheless your support has been solid - for that I am extremely grateful.
We have seen a lot over the last few years. While we continue to be isolated from some of the worst impacts of a bad national economy here in Hawai‘i, I can assure you that we have done our share of suffering that rivals that of our colleagues in other states. We have endured 16 years of failed leadership by governors who refused to prioritize the issues facing middle class working people in Hawai‘i. Last year saw the election of a new governor, and suffice to say that so far, improvement has been limited at best.
We continue to struggle with a legislature that is more intent on keeping their jobs through re-election rather than making the tough and bold decisions necessary to get our state on the right track. And, as scapegoats for the bad economy, unions in Hawaii continue to catch a bad rap among some of the loudest in our community, including many in our media, who take issue with the pay, benefits, and work conditions that our members enjoy through bargaining.
As if the present is not enough, we are not looking at a bright future. The financial crisis in Europe has gone beyond being a concern - it is a problem that can swamp the world. In our own country, partisanship has all but eliminated any hope to pass a legislation that truly puts Americans back to work, or to provide additional stimulus monies to kick start our economy. Instead, Republicans appear intent on using their numbers to dismantle government, and further stifle the middle class - all while finding new ways to protect the interests of the 1% that hold nearly all of our country's wealth. And further - for me there is no greater travesty that to see Republicans being willing to bring down a national institution, the US Postal Service under the guise of cutting government cost. It's just wrong.
Just yesterday we heard that the GOP in the US Senate had blocked passage of the Obama jobs bill. This mean spirited action to protect the rich will do immeasurable harm to our country - but Republicans don't care. Their only concern is to dismantle government, shift the tax burden even further onto the middle class, and find new ways to help corporate America. As you and I watch what is happening - you have to ask "when will it all end?" Sadly the truth is that it will not end until the Republicans regain the White House, at which life as we in Labor know it will cease. As our national president, Rich Trumka, recently pointed out, the GOP actually wants our government to fail.
While we are isolated from some of these pressures facing labor unions, the truth is that Hawaii's citizens are under attack the same as in other places. We remain burdened with reduced wages and hiring freezes. Development projects have slowed to a crawl leaving many of our skilled craftsmen on the bench. There is insufficient business activity to bolster our economy, and we have become even more reliant on tourist dollars. At the end of the day, as the UH is forced to raise tuition to make ends meet, we have gotten ever closer to that point where NONE of our children will seek to study and ultimately make a life here in Hawai‘i.
I apologize for such a gloomy picture, but at this point if we are not honest with ourselves we have no hope. We have to believe that we will pull ourselves out of this, but only if certain things are accounted for.
First - we must as a community address the expenses and revenue of our state and counties. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and expect that time will heal our problems. Action is needed and now to revamp our tax system and to provide needed support to our non-profit community and small businesses. We must all come to grips with the idea that this is a community problem and not one that can be borne on the backs of middle class folks. We must get elected officials to realize that taxing sweets and pensions is not the way to go - that more fundamental changes are needed.
Second - we have to take a look at our laws to see if we have strayed too far in protecting our lands from overzealous development. I'm certainly not advocating for the recently passed land use law, but we do need to review our statutes to determine the efficiency issues in our permitting process, and whether our environmental impact process is appropriate. We continue to do the right thing by protecting our environment, but we cannot go so far as to jeopardize the vital support from construction and development in our community.
Third - we must continue to upgrade our tourism infrastructure to ensure that as people continue to spend their discretionary dollars on traveling to Hawaii that we will not disappoint. Whether it is rail or hotel upgrades we must move forward and not shuffle backward.
Finally - we must address the issue of succession in our Congressional delegation. After many years of exemplary service for Hawai‘i, Sen. Daniel Akaka is retiring. At this time it is incumbent upon us to elect a leader who will work with Sen. Inouye to forget new relationships and alliances in the Senate and House to ensure that Hawaii will fare well in the post-budget earmark era. Arguably Sen. Inouye is our 3rd greatest industry after tourism and the military - once he is gone we must either have a clear plan in place or risk becoming the equivalent of a backwoods state.
All that I have said today comes as no surprise to any of you. We all realize the challenges that lay ahead. It is time to mobilize. It is time to stand and be counted. People are marching in the streets across our country. Whether we engage in that type of protest or just organize politically in a stronger way does not matter - in either case we must act.
Stand and be counted - take a position to support middle class working families - all of us and our families. It's time to get pissed off - because we are in a fight for our lives.
What to do? We must lobby elected officials to:
We are all challenged as our parents were to leave behind for our children a better world than we had. Sadly we may be the first generation to fail that challenge.
- move forward with rail and hotel renovation projects to get more people off the bench and on the job.
- Do something and not hide behind an election year.
- Protect our Democratic Congressional seats and support Mazie for Senator. Note Lingle's support for Sarah Palin and opposing President Obama.
- Stand together where we can. Note coalition effort to help Colleen Hanabusa and Mazie K. Hirono
- Put aside differences between us
Steve Jobs of Apple once said, "The only way to be satisfied is to do what you believe is great work." I know that all of us are up to the challenge of providing our kids a better world, and that you all do good work. You all fight the good fight, and work hard for others. It's time for us to stand together, and do GREAT work. I look forward to working with you all to make our world a better place for this generation and many to come.