On the Picket Line

Support grows for hospital workers on strike in Hawaii

By Neil Tupas
March 27, 2023

MAUI, Hawaii — Two weeks after nearly 500 hospital workers went on strike here against Kaiser’s three Maui Health System facilities, the bosses arrived one hour late for the first negotiating meeting since the walkout began and then broke off discussions after just two hours.

“They are just playing with our emotions,” Elen Quema, a housekeeper at Maui Memorial Medical Center, told the Militant, “showing how they disrespect us and belittle us.”

The strike by nurses aides, housekeepers, cafeteria workers and others continues to win solidarity from other workers and the community.

“UNITE HERE Local 5 from Honolulu, they came here just to support us,” Quema said“It’s amazing how they come to help. Firefighters and other groups like the International Longshore and Warehouse Union are always here to help us.”

“We have had an outpouring of support from teachers, hotel workers,” added Tamara Manley, a picket captain.

United Public Workers union members went on strike Feb. 22, fighting for higher wages, better benefits and safe staff-patient levels. The demand for more hiring is a key issue, since workers have increasingly been forced to cover more work with less people.

“One housekeeper to a whole unit because they didn’t want to hire,” Quema said“They float technicians to cover the nurses aides and other departments. This has been happening for five years.”

Nonstriking workers and patients in the hospitals have been sending pictures to the union of deplorable conditions being tolerated by hospital bosses — blood on patient room floors, dirty sheets and hospital waste piled up in the emergency room. The photos have been posted on the union’s website.

“So far everyone is motivated and very strong to finish this so we can go back,” Quema said. The next scheduled negotiation is set for March 14.

“This is a pivotal moment in our fight for fair treatment and compensation. We cannot afford to let it slip away,” United Public Workers’ State Director Kalani Werner told the media. “By standing together and supporting each other, we can send a powerful message that we will not back down until our demands are met.”

Messages of solidarity can be sent to United Public Workers, 841 Kolu Street Wailuku, Maui, HI 96793; (808) 244-0815.