Look For the Union Label

Chad Blair/Civil Beat

To some, the love shown by Mufi Hannemann, Neil Abercrombie and other politicians to the Hawaii Carpenters Union on Saturday may have resembled pandering. To others, however, it was homage to a 7,000-member strong organization considered as brothers and sisters.

Democrats still need union support to win elections and maintain political dominance. The top two Democrats running for governor went to great lengths Saturday to secure the carpenters' backing by reminding the union of their labor bona fides and shared history.

In Hannemann's case, the soon-to-be-ex-mayor of Honolulu recognized the union's help in passing a charter amendment two years ago that endorsed a steel-wheel on steel-rail transit system.

"You were on the front line in 2008," said Hannemann. "You jumped into a very important vote, to let them decide a rail system could be built. You stepped up, money was raised, you went door to door, you made it happen."

Abercrombie, in full William Jennings Bryan mode, said his labor roots go back four decades to when he helped unionize University of Hawaii professors.

"People said it could not be organized. Other public unions let it go, but we did it!" Abercrombie shouted. "They said it was not worthy of collective bargaining, but I fought for that. (Former Carpenters boss) Walter Kupau nominated me to be on the executive baord of the ALF-CIO. A labor negotiator is standing in front of you right now."

So torn is the carpenters union over its gubernatorial endorsement that it was not announced at the biennial convention at the Sheraton Waikiki, though the group moved to endorse candidates for Congress and Honolulu mayor.

The carpenters' dilemma underscores the crucial battle for union support in the Hawaii governor's race. The support may well make the difference in the Democratic primary for governor and other races.

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