State’s lowest-paid workers lose at Legislature — again

Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz, head of the Senate Ways and Means Committee, purposely sabotaged the $15 minimum wage Bill 2291 by not scheduling a hearing this past February. This is the third year our Democratic Party-controlled Legislature has fallen short in seriously addressing Hawaii’s low-wage situation.

Instead, Dela Cruz called for “more research.” That is nonsense. Enough research has been done by the Hawaii’s State Department of Labor and Industrial Relations, the nonprofit Hawaii Appleseed and the Aloha United Way that proves increased wages will not cause the economy to go under but will give workers more money to stimulate the economy.

In the House, HB 1727 is still alive. This bill calls for basic paid sick leave or wage increases instead. Allowing employers to choose between offering higher wages or paid sick leave is no way to address the needs of our working families. It’s a horrible trade-off and an excuse in not dealing with the consequences of low wages.

In August 2015, Kauai’s fight for $15 got resolution 2015-57 passed to increase the minimum starting wage to $15 an hour for Hawaii’s largest firms. A county resolution is “not law but intent.” The resolution introduced by then councilmember Kipukai Kualii, was tiered to business size ($15 for Walmart and large profitable retailers like Ross, $12.50 for “mid-size firms and $11 for small family type firms.) We went door-to-door in a number of working class communities throughout the island and had good support from the people we talked to.

Many folks are a paycheck or two from losing their homes or at risk of eviction. The Aloha United Way says that more than one third of Hawaii’s working families (165,000) have not recovered from the 2007 recession.

Many people that perform the basic services that keep our society running like restaurant and food service, office clerks, janitors and cleaners, maids and housekeeping and home health care workers need livable wages. Many are working two or more jobs. That’s certainly true of my family. Everything my family makes goes for bills and daily survival.

I’m a retired public worker and a member of the HGEA (Hawaii Government Employees Association). I’m on a small pension and Social Security and still work (part time for than less than $15), doing “home health care” with the disabled and elderly, which I very much enjoy.

My wife is a hotel worker and does housecleaning and home health care as well. My two young adult daughters work full time and have second jobs. One works with the elderly in the day and waitresses in the evening and the other works in retail and is also a waitress in Oregon. They are disciplined workers who show up every day and do everything asked of them. I’m third-generation born and raised in Hawaii and my wife is from the Philippines. I’m a lifelong union member and social justice advocate.

As a public union member I’m concerned about privatization, lay-offs, and the “right to work” laws that will drive public workers to work for less. I’m also a member of LaborFest Hawaii and part of the Democratic Party Labor Caucus and a lifelong voting Democrat.

I also happen to think it’s about time that elected Democratic Party politicians, who get worker and union support every election, get called out for taking working class support for granted. The Democratic Party in Hawaii was formed with union and labor support, but today many elected Democrats skip to the tunes of the Chamber of Commerce.

Working people have not yet organized a large and active enough base to rattle the cages. I guess everyone is too busy working just to survive. That has allowed the elected Democrats to not take us seriously. This must, and will, change if they continue to do nothing to improve the lives of working families.


Ray Catania is a resident of Puhi.

  1. harry oyama March 10, 2018 10:21 am Reply

    Senator Dela Cruz is the very one who supports that $10 billion Rail and probably is in the pockets of big money business, so why should he care about the “little” guy/gal struggling to make ends meet? He couldn’t care less about his Filipino roots or ancestors since he does not need to struggle for a living.

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