Government And The Work Force

Larry Price
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Wednesday - January 18, 2012
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Workers in America are fortunate compared to many others around the world. That’s a wellknown fact. One of the reasons is our government, management and labor leaders are constantly trying to improve workers’ environment.

As we get ready to launch a new legislative session, there is much concern that management will intensify its desire to avoid any further unionization, to remove unions and limit their benefits, and try to minimize their effectiveness in the work force. Conversely, unions rarely try to eliminate a unionized employer, because before that happens they will just close their doors. Look what happened with two fine hospitals, Hawaii Medical Center East and West, which put 900 employees on the street.

Just last week a longtime strong corporate citizen, Tesoro, announced it would be getting out of Hawaii. The San Antoniobased company told its 550 local employees it was selling its Hawaii operations lock, stock and barrel. Tesoro Corporation owns the largest oil refinery in the Islands, a chain of 32 gas stations and as many as 20 attached convenience stores.

What’s going on? On one hand, we are talking about creating more jobs, and on the other, we’re not trying to save two hospitals or keep a highly respectable energy corporation in Hawaii.

As the Hawaii State Teachers Association went into a ratification vote last week, where the outcome was not certain, the state was explaining how to apply for “Directed Leave Without Pay Days” for union members. It seems furloughs have a new name.

In Japan a few years ago, a Toyota engineer who died from working too many hours was awarded compensation. The man was 45 years old. He worked on the Toyota Camry line.

In the two months up to his death, the engineer averaged more than 80 hours of overtime per month! Now, the Health Ministry, which has recognized this phenomenon called karoshi that has been going since 1987, is allowing the man’s family to collect his work insurance benefits.

Most recently, a huge company in China, Foxconn, with more than 800,000 employees, has been forced to take measures to improve workers’ lives in the wake of a mass suicide threat over working conditions and wages. Foxconn manufactures electronic products for companies such as Dell, Hewlett Packard and Sony. It has set up a 24-hour help line and brought in Buddhist monks to offer spiritual consolation.

When you look at our place in the global work force, you can see we are pretty lucky. But the desire to increase sales and limit costs to increase profits is still alive in Hawaii.

Outsourcing and cutting workers’ benefits are likely to be hot topics in the Legislature.

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