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Guide for New Members

The following is reprinted from the ILWU Local 142 Guide for New Members revised February 2019. If you want a printed copy of the Guide for New Members booklet, contact your unit officers, Business Agent, or at the Division Office of your island.

Welcome to the ILWU!

You are now a member of the ILWU, one of many labor unions in the United States. Labor unions are organizations of working people who join together for mutual benefit and to promote fairness and justice on the job.

When workers are united in unions, they have the power to bargain with their employers for better wages, benefits, and working conditions. Through their unions, workers are able to protect their rights and have a stronger voice in what happens in the workplace. 

Unions also give working people the power to influence government and the political process. Through union political action, unions help improve the community and influence government to serve the needs of working people and their families.

This pamphlet will give you an over­view of the ILWU and explain your rights, benefits, and responsibilities as a union member.

Largest Local Union in Hawaii

The first ILWU local in Hawaii was formed in 1937 with longshore workers. The union movement spread quickly, and sugar, pineapple, hotel workers, and others joined the ILWU.

Before the ILWU, unions in Hawaii organized workers along craft or ethnic lines. This divided the working class, and unions were no match against the powerful employer group that controlled the islands.

The ILWU believes in unity and that workers of all ethnic groups from different industries have to be organized into a single union. The ILWU also believes that workers have to be active in politics and community affairs. 

Through unity and solidarity, ILWU members challenged and broke the economic and political domination of the ruling employer group. This opened the way for Hawaii to develop into a progressive, democratic society. 

Today, there are 18,000 ILWU members on all major islands in Hawaii. ILWU members work in every major industry including: tourism, construction, agriculture, manufactur­ing, transportation, and hospitals. ILWU members hold diverse jobs—they are mechanics, drivers, cooks, hotel housekeepers, store cashiers, computer clerks, hospital technicians, and more.

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Negotiated Wages and Benefits

Most people understand that union organization means higher wages, benefits, and rights on the job. When workers are organized into a union, they have the collective power to bargain with their employer over wages, benefits, and working conditions. The results of this bargaining are contained in your union contract, which spells out your wage rates, fringe benefits, and specific rights and protections you receive at work.

Stand up for your rights!

Don’t take these rights and benefits for granted. There are many times when the company does not follow the union contract, and it is up to union members to stand up for their rights. 

You should read your union contract and take an active part in making sure the company abides by its terms. You can get a copy of the contract from your union representative.  

Every few years, a new contract is negotiated, and ILWU members have an opportunity to correct problems on the job and to improve wages and benefits. Many of the benefits you enjoy today took many years to achieve. ILWU negotiations are a democratic process.

Here are examples of the kind of union-negotiated benefits your contract might have*:

• Medical and dental plan for you and your dependents. 

• Wages set by union contract with regular wage increases. 

• Paid holidays, vacations, and sick leave benefits.

• Seniority rights for work opportunity and promotions.

• Retirement benefits. 

• A problem solving procedure that gives you a voice on the job.

• Overtime pay for work after 8 hours a day . 

• Two days of rest each week.

• Paid funeral leave. 

• Severance pay if you are permanently laid off from the company.

• A union grievance procedure if you are unfairly disciplined. 

• The right to safe working conditions and properly maintained tools and equipment.

*the specific terms of your contract may differ — please read your own contract for a full description of your rights and benefits.

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You have Rights!

Problems on the Job? Contact the Union!

As a member of a Union, you have rights on the job. With the ILWU, you have the combined strength and experience of the Union on your side.

You have the right to have a Union Steward or Business Agent help you with any problem on the job. You have the right to ask for a Union Representative if the company calls you into a meeting which may lead to disciplinary action.

You put yourself at a disadvantage when you try to settle a problem by yourself, or when you fail to let your Union know of problems you and your fellow workers have.

When you try to settle problems yourself, your supervisor may agree and then change his mind the next day. Or you may agree to something that may hurt your fellow workers.

The best way is the Union way, where you have the combined strength of other workers beside you.

If you have a problem on the job, the first thing you should do is talk to your Union Steward or Representative.

The Union contract spells out a step-by-step process called the Grievance Procedure.  It is a method of handling job related problems. The grievance procedure has time limits, so you should contact the Union as soon as possible.

Some of the steps are:

First step—A meeting is held with you, your Union Representative, and your immediate supervisor.

Second step—If the problem is not solved to your satisfaction, you can have the Union meet with the general manager or personnel director.

Third step—The Union may take your problem to arbitration. ILWU attorneys will be brought in if needed.

“An Injury to One Is an Injury to All!”

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If You Have A Problem

Company House Rules and Company Discipline

The company may have House Rules, Standards of Conduct, Dress Codes and work policies that are separate from the union contract. These are the company’s rules; however, the union may get involved if you are disciplined as a result of any of these rules or if these rules are unfairly applied, are unreasonable, or unrelated to the business objectives of the company. 

If you are given an oral or written warning or are disciplined by management, you should contact your union representative immediately. You have a right to ask for a union representative, if you are called into a meeting with management and you believe the meeting may result in disciplinary action.

The company may not discipline or discharge any employee except for just and proper cause. Just and proper cause involves the following principles:

1. The company must give the employee forewarning or foreknowledge of the possible or probable disciplinary action as a result of the employee’s conduct.

2. The company’s rule must be reasonably related to the orderly, efficient, and safe operation of the employer’s business.

3. Before administering discipline to an employee, the company must make an effort to discover whether the employee did in fact violate or disobey a rule or order of management—including speaking with the employee and getting their side of the story.

4. The company’s investigation must be conducted fairly and objectively.

5. When the company conducts its investigation, it must obtain substantial evidence or proof that the employee was guilty as charged.

6. The company must apply its rules, orders and penalties evenhandedly and without discrimination to all employees.

7. In determining the degree of discipline the company must show that the penalty is reasonably related to the seriousness of the employee’s proven offense and shall consider the employee’s record of service and length of employment with the company.

The union will work on your behalf to investigate whether the company acted properly in taking disciplinary action against you. If you are disciplined, there is a time limit within which a grievance must be filed. Contact the union right away to have it file a grievance—do not delay because of the time limit. It is always best to inform the union immediately about any problems on the job.

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Help When You Need It

Membership Services

The ILWU Membership Services Program helps members get the most from the benefits provided by their Union contract or by government and private agencies. This program is not limited to job-related problems, but may be able to help members and their families with any problem they have, whether at home or in the community.

ILWU contracts provide many medical, dental, and retirement benefits. Sometimes members need advice on how to get the most out of these benefits. Sometimes members have problems, such as  being overcharged by a doctor or hospital. Members should call the Union for help or advice on how to get the most from their union-negotiated benefits. 

Members can receive help with benefits provided by law such as family leave, workers’ compensation, unemployment insurance, temporary disability insurance (TDI), or in dealing with government agencies on issues such as immigration, Social Security, Medicaid, or Medicare. Instead of coming to the Union after being denied benefits or when something goes wrong, consult the Union first.

Personal and family problems may also be referred to Membership Services. The Union maintains close relations with many private and public agencies and can refer members for help.

Just call your Division office and talk to your Business Agent. He or she will help you directly or put you in touch with the right people in state and community agencies. Your Business Agent may also refer you to a staff person who works out of the Local office in Honolulu.

Sports Program

The ILWU sponsors sports leagues or tournaments for bowling, golf, basketball and softball.

You can join a team or start your own. The program is open to all members, their spouses and dependent children (who are full-time students).

The ILWU organizes these leagues and holds yearly statewide tournaments. Many of these leagues have been going strong for more than 40 years and are well-known and respected in local sports circles.

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Legal Advice

Your job-related problems are handled by ILWU Business Agents, and Local 142 retains one of the best labor law firms in the State. Some grievances involve a lot of time and costly legal work, but there is never any charge to you.

Members may also be referred to our union law firm for help with personal injury and workers’ compensation cases. The union law firm is highly skilled in these matters and charges reasonable fees.

UH Scholarships

Scholarships for any campus of the University of Hawaii system are available through the Harriet Bouslog Labor Scholarship Fund to relatives of ILWU members and even ILWU members themselves. (Preference is given to high school seniors who are family members of ILWU members or retirees.) Ten new scholarships are awarded each year, with students able to renew scholarships for up to eight semesters. Applications are due by April 1 of each year and must include an essay and a video interview of the applicant’s ILWU relative. For further details potential applicants are urged to visit

Union News

Members receive the ILWU Local 142 newspaper, the VOICE of the ILWU, every other month. This paper is an important source of news about the labor movement and provides valuable information not found anywhere else.  

You can read about job safety and health, contract improvements, economic issues, and world events—all from the workers viewpoint.  

Units may also publish their own monthly bulletins with news about what is happening at the Unit.

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ILWU Is A Rank-And-File Union

Members Need to Be Involved in Their Union

Other unions may be happy to just collect dues and not care if members are involved in their union. The ILWU doesn’t work that way. We want union members to be active at the Unit level—at the job site. 

We want as many members as possible to be active in the union. This is why the ILWU has a structure at the Unit level.

A strong and active Unit makes the Union stronger. It gives ILWU members the collective power to solve problems on the job, negotiate better wages and conditions with management, and improve the quality of life of members and their families.

As a Unit, you elect officers and stewards to run your Unit. You vote on how much Unit dues will be and how that money is to be used.

At least nine months before your union  contract with the company expires, your Unit will elect a negotiating committee and decide on what changes you want in the contract. The ILWU will assign a full-time officer to help you negotiate, but you decide on the final agreement. All ILWU contracts must be approved by a vote of the members affected.

Your Unit officers are automatically members of the Division Executive Board of your Division. The Executive Board meets monthly to advise the Division Director and Business Agents of your Division. 

As a Unit you may participate in any Division and Local activities, such as sports tournaments, Labor Day events, and political action.

Your Unit may also decide to sponsor social events to build solidarity among your members. This can be a Labor Day picnic, a Christmas party, or a family night.

Units may use the union halls free of charge for any union-related activity. 

Every three years, ILWU Units send delegates to meet in a Convention which is the highest policy-making body of this union. The Convention sets the budget for the union, determines the wages of the union’s full-time officers, adopts policies, and decides how the union should be run and what kind of programs the union will provide for members.

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How Are Units Organized?

ILWU Units range in size from two members to more than 1,000 members. Each Unit should elect a Chairperson and a Treasurer, at minimum.

Larger Units may elect other officers and union stewards, who should represent every department, shift, or group of workers on the job. It is important that every member feels included in the Unit organization. 

All ILWU Units should hold regular membership meetings to hear if there are any problems on the job, to talk about how to solve these problems, to prepare for the next negotiations, and to educate and involve members—because members are the union.

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A Special Kind of Union

There are many structures within the Union because it means added strength and democracy. 

When more people are directly united with you in the same union, that union can be more powerful and effective in improving wages and working conditions and helping with your problems. 

The ILWU is set up to provide you and other members with the best possible job protection and services. 

The ILWU is run by the membership and that means, to make the union work, you have an obligation to attend meetings and to get involved in union programs.

You will find, as so many others in the ILWU family have, that it is a rewarding experience.

Strength and Democracy

Your Union Dues at Work

Your dues are the only source of income for the ILWU. There is no initiation fee.

Every member of the ILWU pays the same percentage of gross earnings—2.5%— or two and one-half cents for every dollar you earn.   

You don’t pay dues when you are on sick leave, workers’ compensation, unpaid leave of absence, or temporary layoff.  But you continue to have full rights and services as a member.

Your dues pay for:

1.  Direct services—wages for union staff and officers and the costs of operating all union programs.

2.  ILWU democracy—for a democratic organization to work, members must be able to take part in decision-making. The ILWU pays the lost wages, expenses, and traveling costs for membership participation in meetings, negotiations, classes and conventions.

3.  Operating costs—all the expenses of running offices on Kauai, Oahu, Maui, Lanai,  and the Big Island.

Part of your dues go to the ILWU International Union to pay for the   important services it provides such as organizing, research, and the ILWU lobbyist in Washington, D. C.

ILWU Local 142 dues can only be   changed by a vote of the entire membership.

Responsibilities of Members

Know your rights. Read and understand your rights and benefits under the union contract and the ILWU Constitution. You can get copies from your union representative. Take an active part in shaping your working life. Get to know your union shop stewards and get involved with union activities. The union is only as strong as its members. 

Come to union meetings. You’ll learn about your rights as a working person. It’s an education that will make you a better person and your employment at your company more rewarding and enjoyable. Your participation in the union is always welcome and you will be glad you got involved. Meeting notices are posted on your union bulletin board at work, along with other important announcements. Make it a practice to regularly read the notices on the union bulletin board.

Your company is called a “Unit” within the ILWU structure. Each “Unit” has its own elected officers, union stewards, and treasury. All Unit officers and union stewards are volunteers. They get no special treatment or privileges from the company or from the union. They are treated just like you, except they often sacrifice time and effort to make your company a better place to work.

Please treat your unit officers with consideration. They have volunteered to do a difficult job and they need your help and cooperation. You should talk to your union representatives if you have any question about the union contract or have a question about a company practice or policy. They are on your side and are ready to help you.

Don’t hesitate to call

If you cannot reach a Unit officer or steward, you can call your business agent at the ILWU Office in your Division. The telephone number of your ILWU office is printed on the back cover of this booklet. Regular office hours are from 8:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. from Monday to Friday. However, you can always call officers and staff on their cell phones.

If your business agent is not in the office, leave a message and a phone number and a time when you can be reached. ILWU business agents are required to return calls and they will get back to you.

If you have a serious problem, contact the union as soon as possible. There is a time limit on filing grievances specified by the grievance section of every contract, so it is important to report any problem right away.

Guide for New Members