Both the national Democratic Party and the Democratic Party of Hawaii platform call for increasing the minimum wage to $15 an hour. This is a clear mandate. The 2019 Hawaii Legislature failed to pass this.

This was a major party priority to pass this session before the 2020 presidential election. The party has to prove they are the party of the poor and working class. No excuses, especially since Democrats dominate the Hawaii Legislature. This avoidable blunder has shown they are out of touch with Hawaii’s workers.

This is a major collective failure for the elected Democrats. Democrats are the majority, but the so-called “Party of Labor” couldn’t come up with moving a bill out of conference to increase Hawaii’s minimum wage.

This was something that would give economic relief to thousands of Hawaii’s poorest workers and show that Democrats as fighting for the interests of working families. Do legislators take low-wage workers and union votes for granted?

As constituents we don’t care about their internal power struggles and their little cliques, we want justice. Even Senate President Ron Kouchi from Kauai laments the Legislature’s failure in increasing the minimum wage.

We don’t want to hear petty excuses how they couldn’t rectify problems that they encountered with the Labor Department over health care and a tiered pay system, or a system that would give tax relief to small business to offset wage increases.

The Raise Up Hawaii coalition came up with hard research and helpful suggestions to aid the effort. The coalition lobbied, prepared bills, developed websites, packed hearings, set up information tables, dutifully called legislators, submitted thousands of emails and testimonies, gave informed presentations on public television, wrote many editorials and letters to all Hawaii newspapers, went on community radio and aired personal stories online and TV.

House floor session legislature

The House chamber. The author chastises Democrats for not raising the minimum wage.

Cory Lum/Civil Beat

We informed thousands. As involved citizens we politely did our part.

Legislators had lots of time to figure out the minimum wage bills. Sen. Brian Taniguchi’s Senate Bill 789 was not even heard in conference, and House Rep. Sylvia Luke, who heads the House Finance Committee, decided to kill House Bill 1191 as time was beginning to run out on the last day of conference on April 26. Did Luke lack the will to fight for the working poor?

During last year’s 2018 legislative session Sen. Donovan Dela Cruz of the Senate Ways and Means Committee had no shame and refused to hear Senate Bill 2291, which effectively killed it. His excuse was that not many called his office to schedule a hearing. Not true, but we more than doubled our organizing efforts and jammed this year’s hearings with supporters, facts and personal testimonies.

“Many workers in Hawaii are one to two paychecks from being homeless.”

The Democratic-controlled Legislature this year pretended to care about income inequality but had no real intention to raise wages. They just decided to take it to the very end, drop the issue then whine that their hands were tied. They wonder why most youth and poor folks mistrust them.

The only ones really happy about this debacle is the Chamber of Commerce Hawaii and the Republican Party.  Democratic leaders claim the party is a “Big Tent” Party. Yeah, it’s Big Tent alright, but Hawaii’s poorest workers not having a seat under this tent, exposed to the nastiest weather, with wealthy business leaders on stage and protected in the front row.

Many workers in Hawaii are one to two paychecks from being homeless. No, the average worker is not “centrist or moderate” when it comes to issues pertaining to economic inequality; we believe in living wages for all, we demand decent housing and healthcare for all, and we will protect our natural resources from corporate greed.

Like the Republican Party, many of our elected Democrats are out of touch. The proof of this arrogance is accepting pay raises for themselves, with today’s legislators making from $62,604 a year to $74,160 by 2024. Senate President and House Speaker will bring in over $83,000. No class and no shame.

Community Voices aims to encourage broad discussion on many topics of community interest. It’s kind of a cross between Letters to the Editor and op-eds. This is your space to talk about important issues or interesting people who are making a difference in our world. Column lengths should be no more than 800 words and we need a photo of the author and a bio. We welcome video commentary and other multimedia formats. Send to The opinions and information expressed in Community Voices are solely those of the authors and not Civil Beat.

About the Author