State of Repair - Extended Version
6 Leaders Discuss Power & How to Fix Hawaii
(page 7 of 8)
Burris: Now, to bring things back a little bit to the over-arching theme of power – and by that, we don’t necessarily mean political power – we’re talking about the ability to get things done in a community. Maybe we’ll just go around the table and I’ll ask you folks, do you have any hope or optimism that there are institutions, individuals or procedures that will get Hawaii moving in a good direction? Is it the unions? You know, I saw Calvin Say in the elevator, and he said, ‘Oh, it’s the university.’ So, is there an institution or individuals or collection of ideals that can move Hawaii forward for the next 10 to 20 years that will be seen as what makes things happen? I don’t want to pick on you, Randy, but why don’t you go first.
Cayetano: Ha, he’s the most powerful guy right now in this room (everybody laughs).
Perreira: I don’t know about that. But I’m not sure. I think part of the challenge lies in the lack of political leadership and really the need to try to bring people together. For example, one of the points Kitty made earlier about Hawaii being a very small-business state is very true. There continues to be an antagonism at some times between different forces, whether it be legislation or other issues that impact the business community. And I’m not suggesting a partisan thing because there will always be partisanship, but I think so far, we just lack elected officials in this recent generation that are willing to make hard decisions, and not short-term decisions that are premised on getting re-elected.
Lagareta: I couldn’t have said that better, Randy, honestly. It’s true. It seems like it’s all about what you need to do to get re-elected and then going on to higher things. But then, where is the public served in that?
Cayetano: You know, Randy, you guys are very, very hard on people who have supported you for many, many years, when on occasion, they don’t agree with you guys. You know, we can talk 30,000 feet in the air forever. Let’s get down to ground level. For example, when we passed the new healthcare bill that was supposed to be a major reform. As it turns out, it hasn’t happened quite that way. But I remember, I was going to have a public signing upstairs. You know, it’s ceremonial. Usually, whenever we pass a big bill, the legislators flock to get their pictures taken. So here I am, getting ready to sign this historical bill and nobody showed up. I remember waiting and waiting, and nobody showed up. Then somebody asked Bobby Bunda (former state Senate President Robert Bunda), “How come nobody showed up?” and he said, “Why rub salt in the union’s wounds?” That’s what I’m talking about. This man is a little shy (pointing to Perreira), but the union is the most powerful force in this state right now.
Lagareta: If you look at the grassroots level, with all due respect, look at the Democratic Party offices throughout the year – I used to walk by it every day – there’s like two people in there. But when an election comes, there are 8,000 union members who staff everything.
Cayetano: But that’s the union’s right to do that.
Lagareta: Absolutely. But I’m just saying that it’s too bad you can’t disagree. It’s a reality here and that’s why it’s so hard to challenge anybody.
Matsumoto: I don’t think that’s what Randy’s saying. And I’m actually surprised at how candid Randy’s being. It’s his responsibility to advocate for his members, so he’s going to push for whatever is best for them.
Perreira: Well, and therein is a different challenge because one thing that we’ve seen now, at least to some degree, some leadership change in the public sector and to some degree the private-sector unions, but the challenge that we all face internally is the same challenge we face in the community and that is generational differences. There are individuals within the organization who have been around and have went through the Cayetano years, the Ariyoshi years, who have a mindset that is markedly different from our members that are from the Kanu generation, and the internal clash is very real and unfortunately, it creates different challenges trying to change the agenda.
Burris: Does that diminish the union’s effectiveness as an agent for change then?
Perreira: I don’t think so. It’s just a challenge we face in trying to move the group as time moves.
Cayetano: Let me give you an example of how sometimes things can be done. I remember sitting down with Gary Rodrigues and Russell Okata (former leaders of the United Public Workers and the Hawaii Government Employees Association) and we were talking about the union contract and I said, “You know, the benefits are too big upfront – 21 days sick leave, 21 days vacation and 13 holidays. That’s 55 days.” So I asked Gary and Russell, “Why don’t we put five days at the back end so the member who’s worked 25 years gets 26 days instead of 21 days, but the guy who just started has to work five years until he gets his 21 days,” and they agreed to that. And it was in our contract. Well, somebody has to fall off and today it’s no longer there. But it’s an example of how I think we can do some things.
Lagareta: Yeah, absolutely. You know, when you say workers, Randy, this is where I have a big issue because when I hear the union say workers. I have workers, private businesses have workers, especially with all the small businesses we have. All these people are workers who we value and who we also want to benefit. And this is not just unions, but when we constantly hear about profits in the private sector and all of that, we all invest a lot into our employees, with 401Ks and all of that. My guys took pay cuts and shorter hours and stuff back in December, essentially, because we saw what was coming and our private-sector clients were hurting. I have nothing against state workers, but I have a real issue when somehow private sector workers are differentiated from the state workers. I hear this in the state a lot – I hear this from the Legislature – and I think that divides us, and it bothers me a lot and I know it does a lot of business people. I just think we need to come together.
Matsumoto: I think what it shows is a significant break down in trust among these different institutions, so the relationships we were talking about earlier are frayed. They’re not conducive to having the kind of dialogue the governor talked about, in terms of reaching out to the head of the UPW and the HGEA. (Pointing to Cayetano) They respected you. They may not have agreed with you, but they respected you. They knew you were a man of your word. I think that’s what Randy was referring to.
Cayetano: For example, on the furloughs, we consulted the unions. You have to. If you don’t do it and you just come out and say you’re going to lay off 1,200 workers – or 10,000 workers, whatever the number is – you’re going to have problems.
Perreira: Well, I think integrity today is a lost virtue. For some, integrity lasts a minute after you walk out the door. The challenge there is that as many issues that I’ve personally disagreed with Gov. Cayetano about, I’ll say this – heaven forbid I’m defending him (everyone laughs) – he always acted on the strength of his convictions. Whether right or wrong by the way we viewed the world, he always acted and that’s not indictment of any individual that’s in elected leadership today, but just in total, if you look at what we face, that’s missing.
Ho: I think that’s what more public officials need to appreciate. It doesn’t mean you make enemies with the other side. It actually means that sometimes saying “no” wins you the respect of the people on the other side. If you have good reason and you’re able to articulate it and you’re willing to stand on your convictions, how can somebody not respect that?
Perreira: Well, unfortunately, some people don’t. It’s just human nature.
Burris: OK, this is getting a little depressing. Is everybody so afraid and fragmented that it’s impossible to move forward? Or is there something on the horizon?
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