Wayne Joseph’s Blog

Running with the Big Dog

Richard Baker and the ILWU working to improve the standard of living

Richard Baker

Labor Day means many different things to different people, but to me it means an opportunity for social mobility.

My great grandparents were foreign immigrants from Madeira and the Azores who came to Hawaii in the 1880’s for a better life.

Part of their dreams hinged on the wages they earned and their ability to make a living wage and that is the tie into Labor Day.  

For many immigrants, such as my grandparents, it was the ILWU that fought for a living wage for those that worked our plantations.

Today I honor one such person, who like my parents and I, grew up poor and had a rocky beginning.

Richard Baker never had the opportunity to play high school sports at Hilo High School because it was more important for him to begin working at age 14 to help his family financially.

“My dad was getting into raising cattle so I was able to ride my first horse when I was five,” Baker said.  “When I got older I went into bull riding.”

When he turned 14 Baker’s father had a horse fall on him shattering his leg.

“My dad never got the proper medical attention and from then on would always walk with a sever limp,” Baker said.

This 1964 graduate of Hilo High worked on Lujan’s Ranch and participated in rodeos throughout his teenage years.

“My father only had 10 to 15 head of cattle and I worked hard for him and earned some extra money working on Lujan’s Ranch,” Baker said.

Baker’s humble beginnings were at the Hilo Coast Processing Plant which is where he learned about being in a union and what unions can do for workers.

“I started out as the ILWU’s unit editor and learned much from a man named Dave Thompson,” Baker said.

Baker is a true success story, starting out at the bottom of the union hierarchy and working his way up to being the Division Director in charge of the Big Island.

“I didn’t realize how much stress and what an enormous burden it was to be the Division Director,” Baker said.

Baker tried to relive so of that stress by taking out a membership at Spencer’s Gym.

“Exercise makes me feel better,” he said.  “But with a gym membership I wasn’t’ all that consistent and eventually found that for me there was a better way,” Baker said.

The loss of consistency came as a result of Baker being hit by a car and needing to go through rehab.

“I didn’t need surgery, but it changed the way I did things and it ended up turning into a better way for me,” Baker said.

That better way for Baker turned out to be buying his own home equipment.

“I invested in a treadmill, weight sets, stretch bans and a medicine ball,” he said.

As a result Baker has become more able to work out on a regular basis.

“I will run on the treadmill four times a week and shift into weights on my off days,” he said.

Baker will stay on the treadmill for a minimum of 40 minutes to get a good cardio workout then switch to weight to work his upper body.

Along the way Baker developed Kidney Stones and had to modify his diet for the better.

“I now drink lots of water, which can be a problem if I’m in a business meeting as I need to take lots of restroom breaks,” Baker said.

This division director tries to eat oatmeal and cereal for breakfast and has reduced his consumption of rice which in return has resulted in some weight loss.

“I will eat more raisins, prunes and nuts to take better care of my body,” he said.

He is also on cholesterol medication which he attributes to heredity.

“Certain things you just can’t avoid as my father had high cholesterol and one of my sisters also has it, but I do what I can through diet as not to make it any worse,” he said.

Baker retired from the ILWU on June 1 of this year but is looking to stay active through retiree organizations which work towards maintaining benefits.

“I am currently working with the Hawaii Alliance for Retired Americans to see how we can join together for the betterment of all retirees,” Baker said.

“I may have retired from active service with the ILWU but the battle continues to bring equal opportunities for all our citizens and retirees.  The retirees are the most vulnerable group as their fate is left to politicians,” Baker said.

On this Labor Day I salute all those working hard for the advancement of working people everywhere.

This was the true meaning of setting aside a holiday once a year in appreciation of those that Labor to make this county great.

Richard Baker is just one of many people that have dedicated their lives to the Labor Movement.  And Baker hasn’t abandoned the fact that it is necessary to take care of his body first to ensure that he can take care of others.

 And someday should you happen to see a retired HSTA member jogging the streets of East Hawaii remember to say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”

September 3, 2012 Posted by | Profiles | , | 2 Comments

Veteran’s Day 5K run/walk set for Thursday, Nov 11

Veterans pose from last years Vet Day 5K

  • Big Dog Productions Presents:

Big Dog will be hosting the Veterans Day 5K run/walk on Thursday Nov. 11 at 7:30am. (rain or shine so bring your umbrellas just in case). The event starts and finishes at the entrance to the Coconut Island Parking Area in Hilo. All welcomed! Come celebrate Veterans Day – entry fee is a canned good for the Hawaii Island Food Basket.

Post race snacks provided by Veteran and House Rep. Jerry Chang along with Vidration Sports Drinks provided by Anheuser-Busch’s Keith Aoki.

Photos will be taken with the Big Dog with all the Veterans who are participating.  Also group photo’s of those wearing union tee shirts, so come out and where you’re HSTA, ILWU, UPW, HGEA, etc shirts and support our Veterans.

Volunteers are also need and for more information contact the Big Dog at waiakeabigdog@aol.com or 969-7400.

October 16, 2010 Posted by | Running on the Big Island | , , , , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Labor Day Salute to HSTA Retiree, Joe Tanaka

Long time HSTA member Mr. Joe Tanaka

Today is the 129th year that we have been celebrating the first Monday in September as Labor Day.  First established as a holiday on Sept. 5, 1882, Labor Day is devoted to the recognition of working people’s contributions to society in both the U.S. and Canada.

Our roots in the islands come from the struggles of the plantation workers and their connection to the ILWU which for many years worked hard to raise the standard of living for all.

Each year, since I’ve been writing this column, I have selected someone connected to the Labor movement, that is also healthy and fit, to write about.

Today’s featured person is “Joe” Yoshiichi Tanaka who got involved with the Hawaii State Teachers Association during its infancy.

“I began with HSTA’s representation election campaign or “civil war” as I call it, back in 1969,” Tanaka said.

The “civil war” that Tanaka talks about resulted in HSTA becoming the designated and exclusive bargaining agent for teachers and would eventually result in a high standard of living for those professionals.

“I decided, along with many other teachers, to remain involved and help the union ensure that collective bargaining under Chapter 89 became a reality for teachers as well as other public employees,” Tanaka said.

In those early years Tanaka would quickly learn that making collective bargaining legal was one thing and developing and making it work was another.

“Prior to collective bargaining we virtually had no voice in educational matters or issues,” Tanaka said.  “Being unified as a union we would be listened to, gain a measure of respect and provide a meaningful voice in educational policies and practices beyond just wages, hours and conditions of work.”

Tanaka was born and raised on the Big Island and grew up enjoying the ocean and shoreline fishing.  “I have always liked and played sports growing up and into the present, with shoreline fishing being my first love,” Tanaka said.

Growing up in Kona, Tanaka played American Legion and high school baseball and also had a short stint as a walk-on in the college track program at Iowa State Teachers College.  “My college walk-on attempt sooner more than later became a walk-off,” he said with a wide grin.

Following college, graduate work and a stint in the US Air Force Tanaka returned to the Big Island and spent most of his Department of Education career as a counselor at Hilo and Waiakea.  He would also devote most of his life to HSTA becoming involved from the very beginning in many governance posts including being one of the five members of the initial bargaining team.

“About 20 years ago I began an avid fitness program which includes 1.5 hours at a fitness center twice per week which is supplemented with golf, mini workouts at home, fishing (when I can) and work around the yard and garden,” Tanaka said.  “Maybe I can die of old age doing this type of fitness routine.”

Tanaka also stays very active with regular walking, sundry daily stretching, some pushups and the like, and has a good sense of humor to boot.  “I enjoy being reasonably gasa-gasa (active-active), he said.

Along with regular physical exercise Tanaka and his wife, Helen, also eat healthy.  “I don’t like the word diet because of the first three letters,” Tanaka said with a smile.

“The principal benefit of a healthy life style for Helen and I thus far has been 20 years plus of energetic retirement.  Indeed, we are happy and thankful for this and greet each other every morning with a ‘good morning’,” he said.

Tanaka describes his best friend as his wife, Helen, and his “worst friends” as his three golfing buddies who, according to Tanaka “love to rob pension bucks off me regularly.” 

Tanaka continues his involvement with HSTA and other governance roles, as he now serves the retired teachers (HSTA-R) on the Cost of Living Allowance Fairness Committee as its Chairperson. 

“I believe that life is the greatest gift bestowed upon each of us without our asking by a force which I have yet to hear explained or described sensibly,” Tanaka said.  “Each of us has an obligation to live a worthy life, one that does not do harm to another person(s) life, for that is the best way to express gratitude to the ‘force’ that gave us life. And, this includes caring for my body, for without it where would I live?”

Mr. Joe Tanaka, at age 75, is one of the many fine people that have dedicated their lives to the advancement of the labor movement while continuing to maintain a healthy and wholesome lifestyle.

So today, Labor Day, should be a reflection on the many sacrifices made by those before us to achieve the multiple advancements made to society.   Increased health benefits, a living wage, a higher standard of living, job security, I could go on and on, are provided to us by those with vision and courage.

Happy Labor Day!

 “No business which depends for existence on paying less than living wages to its workers has any right to continue in this county.  By living wages I mean more than a bare subsistence level-I mean the wages of decent living,” Franklin Roosevelt said.

And someday should you happen to see a retired teacher coming jogging through the streets of Hilo remember to smile, say “woof” and never shy away from “Running with the Big Dog.”

September 6, 2010 Posted by | Profiles | , , , , , , , | 1 Comment

Wakabayashi Active in Labor Movement

Betty Wakabayashi active HSTA-R

Bettye Wakabayashi active HSTA-R

Hope most of you are enjoying the three day weekend thanks to it being a national holiday, called Labor Day.

    Labor Day was first celebrated on September 5, 1882, under the sponsorship of the Knights of Labor.  The holiday is devoted to the recognition of working people’s contributions to society in both the US and Canada.

    Here in Hawaii our roots in the Labor Day Holiday come primarily from one of our first labor unions, the ILWU, which struggled for many years to raise the standard of living for our plantation workers.

Hawaii's first major union
Hawaii’s first major union

Many of our old time workers can vouch for the positive changes made over the years through the Labor Movement.  One such person is Bettye Wakabayashi of Hilo who had spent a good part of life in the classroom.

    “The first month of my teaching career my principal asked me if I was going to join the union.  I said no, I don’t believe in unions, and her response to me was if the union gets a raise for the teachers, or better benefits, are you going to turn them all down and not accept them?,” Wakabayashi said.

   Needless to say Wakabayashi joined the union and has become actively involved in union affairs ever since.

   Today Wakabayashi is 80 years old and in great physical condition.  As a former Physical Education teacher, Wakabayashi has led an extremely active life and became very conscious of the importance of a healthy diet and exercise for all ages.

   As a girl Wakabayashi grew up playing many sports while riding her bike all over her home town of Sacramento, California until she graduated from high school.  “I played softball, was a lifeguard, rabid snow and water skier, played basketball and badminton as well as many other activities,” she said.

     “I was fortunate enough to grow up in a home where vegetables and fruits were abundant, and I grew up loving them.”

    Being active as a young person and eating well led Wakabayashi to pursue a college degree in physical education while raising her own family.  “My children were both in school, so I decided to go back to college to get my teacher’s degree,” she said.

     Wakabayashi can also remember the early days of teaching when she was required to do much more than teach during the day.  “I can remember the days when we ate lunch in the classroom, everyday, in order to supervise and teach manners to the children.  I also cleaned the classroom, everyday, after the children had gone.”

    “In the early days of teaching there were few benefits and the pay scale was so low that it was difficult to raise a family,” she said.

    Wakabayashi became active in the Hawaii State Teachers Association and participated in two strikes.

nea logo r

“We have made unbelievable improvements in everything that we have fought for over the years.  There have been improvements in our health benefits, pay scales and classroom controls.  We have fewer children in many of the classrooms and the list goes on and on,” she said.

   Wakabayashi has served in every capacity of officer that a teacher could serve, and also served on the HSTA Executive Board since she arrived in Hawaii.

    And there is no slowing down this octogenarian as she continues her active involvement in the community.  Last year she went to Washington D.C. as the HSTA-Retired representative to the National Education Association Convention.

  Wakabayashi is also active in the HSTA-R (retired) Hawaii Chapter, an active member in the Vireya Club (Tropical Rhododendrons) and remains active in the Hawaii Island Humane Society and the Blood Bank of Hawaii.

    “There are so many interesting things to be done in an organization of people that you enjoy being with and when one doesn’t have a lot of money, helping out in causes you love gives you a chance to help that cause without spending anything, except your time and effort.”

    Wakabayashi also believes that you need to remain active and vigilant in order to protect the rights and benefits that you now have.  “Being a retired teacher I am aware of the power the State has to take away the benefits that we have been given and I will stay active until nothing we have earned, nor what the teachers of today are earning, is in jeopardy,” she said.

   To stay in shape Wakabayashi, who lives in a two story house, walks up and down her steps at least a dozen times per day.  “I will also park as far away from the store and under the shadiest tree,” she said.

   Once per week she will attend a hydrotherapy maintenance session at the Hilo pool to take care of some of the aches and pains associated with aging.  “I have Arthritis in my spine, knees, hips, shoulders, and hands and the water therapy runs me through a series of exercises in a pool, that are much gentler on my body,” she said.

  I admire Betty Wakabayashi for her role in helping fellow teachers receive and protect the benefits they now have and also for her positive attitude towards living a healthy lifestyle. 

  At 80 years young Wakabayashi continues to give back to our community and is one of the many thousands of hard working people in Hawaii that deserve having a holiday set aside in their honor.

   Happy Labor Day everyone!

September 7, 2009 Posted by | Health and Fitness, Profiles | , , , , | Leave a comment