Editor’s Note: Ad Watch is an occasional Civil Beat series in which we analyze ads involving Hawaii candidates.

A local hospitality and healthcare union has enlisted two Honolulu City Council members in its ongoing fight with Kaiser Permanente over pension benefits.

Unite Here Local 5 has spent tens of thousands of dollars on three 15-second TV ads featuring Stanley Chang and Joey Manahan. They are airing on KFVE, KGMB, KHNL and KITV during the morning and evening news hours.

Stanley Chang in Unite Here ad

Unite Here Local 5

Chang and Manahan weren’t paid for the ads, but they are both running for Congress. The primetime spots help them get their names and faces out to a wider audience without touching their campaign war chests.

In one ad, Chang compares Kaiser’s desire to end pension benefits to President George Bush trying to end guaranteed Social Security checks. He urges Kaiser to “do the right thing.”

In another ad, Chang explains that “getting old shouldn’t hurt.” He says if Kaiser ends pensions, it will hurt local workers as they get older.

The ad featuring Manahan uses the same “getting old shouldn’t hurt” language. But it ends with Manahan simply stating, “I say no to ending guaranteed pensions.”

Almost 2,000 of the 10,000 members Local 5 represents work for Kaiser doing facility maintenance, housekeeping and other jobs.

The union has been trying to negotiate a new contract with Kaiser since the last one ended in August 2012, said Eric Gill, Local 5’s financial secretary-treasurer.

“We continue to bargain, but it’s clear to us that Kaiser needs some persuading,” he said Tuesday.

Kaiser Permanente spokeswoman Laura Lott said the company gave the union a “last, best and final offer” in January but it was never taken to members for a vote. There have been no negotiations since then, she said.

Lott stressed that there are no changes to any pension plans for existing employees. What would change under a new contract is people hired after Jan. 1, 2015, would have a different retirement plan offered to them as Kaiser moves from a defined benefit to a defined contribution model.

Local 5, in a related social media campaign featuring photos of workers with their families, says the pension change would amount to $1,200 a month for many union members who retire at age 65.

Lott was unable to confirm how much the proposed change in plans would cost.

The goal of the TV ads is to put community pressure on Kaiser, Gill said.

The ads feature a hashtag — #NoToKaiser — that represents an effort to draw more public heat from the Twitter realm. The ads have been airing for a couple weeks but haven’t spurred more than a handful of tweets, mostly from the union and Chang.

University of Hawaii political science professor emeritus Neal Milner said it’s no coincidence the union chose Chang and Manahan for its ads — and that they accepted the offer.

“This is a nice opportunity for two candidates who really aren’t known all that well outside of their own districts to go on television and reach an Oahu-wide audience without having to pay for the 15-second ad,” Milner said.

He suspects name recognition is the reason state Senate President Donna Mercado Kim is leading the packed race for the open 1st Congressional District seat.

The union asked other council members to appear in ads too, but they declined, Gill said.

Local 5 endorsed Manahan last election, but the union didn’t endorse Chang. Gill said Chang’s involvement with the ads, however, does make him a lot more attractive candidate this time around.

The union has not begun to address congressional endorsements for this election yet though, Gill said. The Democratic primary is Aug. 9.

Manahan and Chang did not return messages seeking comment Tuesday.

Check out the three ads here:

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