Wage earners have right to know

My support of Councilman Hooser’s Bill 2491 on GMO pesticide disclosure is in no way attacking any of the laborers or ordinary field workers — they are just trying to support their families. My questions and concerns are aimed at the corporate owners of the five GMO firms — the big shots making billions. My concern is from a labor advocate’s point of view.

My ancestors, like many of those that work in the GMO fields today, came from the  Philippines to work on Hawaii’s sugar plantations, and I’m definitely proud that we came to labor on the land that was unfortunately stolen from the Native Hawaiians or more correctly the “Kanaka Maoli” — that makes us “first cousins.”

We’re tied together by the land and together we waged some mighty battles with the rest of Hawaii’s multi-racial working class for unions that would bring us dignity. We won, because we didn’t let the owners divide and conquer us.

I’m a state retiree from the Department of Human Services (DHS) and HGEA member with the retirees unit — I still have to work part time as a home healthcare aide to support my family. My two adult daughters work in retail and in restaurants, while my wife works very hard as a nurse’s aide and hotel worker.

So, I’m not telling anyone that I hope they lose their job for the health of Kauai — having no job to support your family is the most stressful and unhealthy situation to be in. When a working family doesn’t have enough to pay the rent or mortgage or even the electric bill, that is an emotional killer and all hell can break lose in a family. Because of my own experiences, I don’t take being unemployed lightly and working with families while in the DHS confirmed this fact of life for me on a daily basis.

I have both friends and relatives that work in the industry and my mother-in-law used to work in one of the GMO fields as a “scarecrow” chasing away birds, as she laughingly called it.

As a wage worker, I fully support Bill 2491, having full disclosure of all pesticides used. My concern is two parts. First, for the field workers and those that are involved in the spraying, are they fully protected and informed on all pesticides being used? For the wage workers, can they support a family on the pay and benefits they receive? Will they get fired if they speak up about working conditions or even if they inquire about the full effects of the pesticides used? If they try to organize a union to fight for their interests, will they get fired or disciplined?

Secondly, these are mostly working class communities and many of them, just like my family, live from paycheck to paycheck to just try to survive — they can’t just pick up and leave. Full disclosure on the uses of these pesticides and their effects must be honestly made to everyone. I feel this right to know is a basic human right.

The average wage worker of Kauai has a right to know. If we care to support this industry because of jobs, then like many local people say, “No be shame. Tell the truth.”

 • Ray Catania is a resident of Puhi.

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