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Labor Day Salute to HSTA Retiree, Joe Tanaka

September 6, 2010

Joe Tanaka still contibuting to HSTA

The following story appeared on Labor Day 2010 in the Hawaii Tribune-Herald Sports page written by columnist Wayne “Big Dog” Joseph.

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.”

Email the Big Dog at waiakeabigdog@aol.com.

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One Comment leave one →
  1. Sharon L. Lehman permalink
    September 8, 2010 12:12 pm

    Joe Tanaka has been my hero in the field of education since I first met him out a Naalehu School in about 1988-89 when he visited my Special Ed classroom and showed an interest in our “Naalehu Sped Publishing Company”, the technological development of our SpEd students (computer literacy), and the classroom library we had acquired, actively used, and to which we continued to develop. Later, he visited at Keaau school, and Mt. View School in my special ed classes there. Joe was always supportive, but most moving, was when he retired and donated his own young people’s library to be added to our own!. Joe was always there when I begged for advice. When I went to teach second grade at Keaau near the end of the ’90s, I passed the library on to another special education teacher, Mrs. Camarillo, and began building a second grade library that was suitable for both the regualr ed class and those special ed second grade students that I was permitted to *integrate into the regular ed environment (a long held desire of mine, to proove, “Oh YES we Can!). Another endeavor positively supported by my hero, Joe Tanaka! When I retired in 2001, Joe was head of the telephone tree. Of course I wanted to be a part of that. Who could say “no” to Joe? Joe’s high standards and refreshing honesty continue to inspire me. He sets an example that all of us would do well to emulate. Thanks, Joe!

    * Kaau Elementary School had seven second grade classes at that time. Our general SpEd population at that time was close to 10% at the elementary level, making it a challange to integrate such a large population into one class of 20 (give or take 2).

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