Fighting For A Living Wage In Hawai'i | Crooked Media
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March 08, 2022
What A Day
Fighting For A Living Wage In Hawai'i

In This Episode

  • Today, workers in Hawai’i are rallying at their State Capitol to raise the state’s minimum wage for the first time since 2018. Christy MacPherson, the Lead Community Developer at the Hawaiʻi Appleseed Center for Law & Economic Justice, joins us to discuss how workers are being affected by low wages in the highest cost-of-living state in the nation.
  • Russia and Ukraine engaged in their third round of talks on Monday, which once again ended without any major progress. The United Nations reported that at least 1.7 million Ukrainians are now refugees, half of whom are children, and tens of thousands of people who are still in Ukraine lack power, heat, water, medicine, and food.
  • And in headlines: The Supreme Court said it will not review the decision that freed Bill Cosby from prison, the Pentagon announced that the US Navy will permanently close its Red Hill fuel storage facility in Hawai’i, and Lady Gaga announced the new tour schedule for her Chromatica Ball tour.


Show Notes:



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Tre’vell Anderson: It’s Tuesday, March 8th. I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


Josie Duffy Rice: And I’m Josie Duffy Rice, and this is What A Day, the podcast that had to scrap our Pete Davidson claymation video concept when we learned Kanye West did it first.


Tre’vell Anderson: OK, but ours is better, so . . .


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s less violent. Ours is like pretty Pete Davidson-supportive. You know?


Tre’vell Anderson: On today’s show, the Supreme Court won’t reinstate the conviction of Bill Cosby. Plus, the fight for a higher minimum wage in Hawai’i, where the cost of living is the highest in the country.


Josie Duffy Rice: But first, a quick update on Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. Yesterday, the two countries engaged in their third round of talks, which once again ended without any major progress, though a Ukrainian official did say that there were, quote, “small positive shifts regarding logistics of humanitarian corridors.” Those are the safe passageways for Ukrainians who want to leave cities like Kiev or Kharkiv, or who want to leave the country altogether. And it’s a small but good sign, since those corridors had become increasingly risky after the failure of a number of cease fires that were negotiated to allow safe passage to civilians. Still, the talks did not result in the ultimate goal of ending the Russian invasion altogether.


Tre’vell Anderson: So Josie, talk to us about what Russia is actually asking for during these talks.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, so yesterday, a Russian official laid out their extreme demands for ending the invasion. So the demands include that Ukraine stop its military activity, change its constitution so that they are prevented from joining both EU and NATO and recognize Crimea as part of Russia. So just some small casual asks from the Russian government. They also want Ukraine to declare two separatist areas of Ukraine as independent. Russia has also offered other tangential, some might say solutions—I would not say that—many of which are unreasonable, to say the least. For example, yesterday, Russia present their own evacuation plan for Ukrainians, suggesting that they could leave the country safely by just going into Russia, or into Belarus, a Russian ally.


Tre’vell Anderson: Which does not seem to be a wise decision. But what do I know?


Josie Duffy Rice: I just feel like if a country is invading my country and I want to leave, I don’t want to go to the country invading my country.


Tre’vell Anderson: Maybe not. Are there any other major updates about the experiences of Ukrainian residents on the ground right now?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Tre’vell. And as you can imagine, it’s getting increasingly more terrifying for people in Ukraine. So Russian shelling has become, quote, “increasingly indiscriminate” according to the New York Times. This has put regular civilians at serious risk of being harmed or killed. Meanwhile, tens of thousands of people lack power, heat, water, medicine, and food, making the situation more dire by the day. Many residents have reportedly not had anything to eat or drink in days, and meanwhile, the United Nations reported that at least 1.7 million Ukrainians are now refugees. Half of those are children.


Tre’vell Anderson: Wow. Now what about the response from the United States and other allied countries? Any updates there?


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. So first, it looks like sanctions against Russia will get even more harsh in the near future. On Monday, Congress moved forward on a bipartisan effort to suspend trade with Russia. They also want to ban U.S. purchases of Russian oil, and that would have a major effect on the Russian economy, of course, but it would also have major impacts stateside. Even the suggestion of such a move send oil prices skyrocketing yesterday to over $119 a barrel, which is the highest price in 14 years. Average gas prices are now over $4 a gallon in the United States.


Tre’vell Anderson: Which no one likes paying more for gas, especially those of us who already had our gas over $4 a gallon, which means it’s going up.


Josie Duffy Rice: That’s true. Yeah.


Tre’vell Anderson: But now we want to focus on the story of one American who is stranded in Russia, in circumstances that are pretty alarming. Over the weekend, the New York Times reported that WNBA star Brittney Griner was arrested in Russia after customs officials say they found vape cartridges containing hashish oil in her luggage at an airport near Moscow. Griner, for the sports challenged out there, is a two-time Olympic gold medalist and seven-time WNBA All-Star with the Phoenix Mercury basketball team. The announcement of Griner’s detainment came as the US State Department updated an advisory on Saturday instructing U.S. citizens in Russia to leave the country immediately. The announcement cited the quote, “potential for harassment against U.S. citizens by Russian government security officials.” It’s currently unclear how long Griner has been detained in Russia, but according to their customs service, the search of her belongings happened in February, raising the possibility that she’s been in custody for a week. Griner is facing potential drug charges, which can carry a sentence of up to 10 years in prison in Russia. Again, she had some vape cartridges, and politicians have noted that Russia has a history of detaining U.S. citizens on trumped up charges.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah, it’s a very outrageous situation, and I have some questions about Russia’s accusations. I would not take them at face value. That’s all I’m going to say. So I think some of our listeners are probably wondering what was a star athlete for the WNBA even doing in Russia, especially during such a tense period? So can you tell us a little more about that?


Tre’vell Anderson: Yeah, so many WNBA players play for foreign teams during the off season, because when compared to their NBA counterparts, they’re making significantly less. And according to the New York Times, the bulk of income for many WNBA players is not actually earned in the league. Now, many people have noted how Russia’s anti-LGBTQ stance might be further impacting Griner’s detainment because she’s gay, and have suggested that she could become a negotiation point as the U.S. continues to support Ukraine against Russia’s invasion. Her wife, Cherelle, shared a message on Instagram Monday, saying quote, “My heart, our hearts are all skipping beats every day that goes by. There are no words to express this pain. We await the day to love on you as a family.”


Josie Duffy Rice: Just devastating. So moving to some domestic news today, workers in Hawai’i are rallying at their state Capitol to raise the state’s minimum wage for the first time since 2018. Currently, Hawai’i’s minimum wage is $10 and 10 cents an hour, meaning that someone working full time can make as little as $21,000 a year. That’s already pretty low by most standards, but it’s especially low when you take into account that Hawai’i has the highest cost of living in the nation. According to state officials, takes almost $40,000 a year for a single, childless adult to live comfortably, for a family of four with two adults, that number goes up to over $90,000.


Tre’vell Anderson: Yes, the math is not math-ing, but there has been some progress towards raising Hawai’i’s minimum wage this year in the state legislature, though many living wage advocates say it isn’t fast enough to address workers who are in need right now. To learn more about Hawai’i’s need for a higher minimum wage and what organizers are doing on the ground, we have with us Christy McPherson. She is the lead community developer at the Hawai’i Appleseed Center for Law and Economic Justice. Her organization is part of the Raise Up Hawai’i campaign, which organized today’s rally. Christy, welcome to What A Day.


Christy McPherson: Thank you. Aloha, everyone.


Josie Duffy Rice: So let’s start by giving listeners who aren’t familiar with Hawai’i some context. In the broader movement to raise the national minimum wage, the number we normally hear as a goal is $15 per hour, but living wage advocates in Hawai’i are pushing for $18 an hour by 2026. So why is the number 18 and not some other number?


Christy McPherson: Prior to the start of this legislative session, we were going by the figure that was given for the self-sufficiency standard by the Department of Business and Economic Development and Tourism, and they determined that it was close to $18 in 2021. It’s even higher now. It’s above $19, so we’re way behind, even with $18 dollars by 2026 or 2028, we’re still going to be behind the mark. So we’re going to try and push for as much as we can in the coming weeks because our workers, they’re really in need of this increase big time.


Josie Duffy Rice: Do you feel like the number needs to be higher than 18?


Christy McPherson: Well, we would all like the number to be higher. I mean, we all know that it takes about $30 an hour for someone to really survive and thrive here in Hawai’i. And so $18 is definitely not what we would consider a fair wage. But when you’re working on advocacy and legislation, you have to be wise about what you’re trying to ask for. So asking for 30 will probably get us nowhere at this point.


Josie Duffy Rice: Right. No, yeah. It’s a process, of course.


Christy McPherson: Yes.


Tre’vell Anderson: Now you are in direct contact with workers who have been disadvantaged by the low minimum wage as part of your work. What are some of the stories that you are hearing or have heard from folks that have made it clear to you that a living wage is needed?


Christy McPherson: What we’ve been hearing from them has been really, really sad in terms of their lives that they’re living right now. We met one security guard who works three jobs and has children, but doesn’t even get to spend time with them because he’s working 18 hours a day, seven days a week. So he literally has six hours a day to sleep, eat, spend time with his family, travel back and forth to work. When I heard that, I just couldn’t even believe it. One of the other workers we know, he works three jobs to take care of his family, and his father also works three jobs and his mother works one job and they all share an apartment—if you can imagine it takes five jobs just for them to pay their rent and for their food. It’s like, you know these things are happening, but when you talk to the workers and you see it in their eyes and their absolute desperation, when you tell them that you’re fighting for them and that you want to raise the minimum wage for workers like them, it just makes it so real.


Tre’vell Anderson: And is there one particular like sector or industry where this issue is more apparent than others, or is it kind of widespread?


Christy McPherson: It is widespread, but I think food service is definitely the lowest, as well as retail. Those are the two most prevalent businesses that are paying well below a living wage.


Josie Duffy Rice: So Hawai’i State Senate has already passed a bill that would raise the minimum wage $18 an hour by 2026, but its House of Representatives is working on a slower bill that would raise the minimum wage $18 an hour by 2030. I guess what is the argument for moving more slowly on this issue? Obviously, this needs to happen as soon as possible.


Christy McPherson: Right. I think, you know, businesses have been putting a lot of pressure on these lawmakers, especially small business. I think they’ve been very determined to let the lawmakers know that they’re struggling. And we do acknowledge that the pandemic has been very difficult for them, but it’s been more difficult for our workers. And so legislators tend to listen to business more than the people that they serve and their own constituents, which is really always been something that has really been a challenge here in Hawai’i.


Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely. So can you tell our listeners what they can do to get involved with Raise UP Hawai’i and support workers in Hawai’i? What’s the best way for them to kind of let the Hawai’i government know, but also just support you all and your efforts to get to an $18 minimum wage?


Christy McPherson: One really great way people could get involved is if they go on our Capitol website, they can go and register for a hearing notification for one of the two bills that we’re currently working on, which is Senate Bill 2018 or House Bill 2510. And if they’d like to submit testimony, even as someone who doesn’t live in Hawai’i, they are still able to do that and that would be really powerful as well. You know, hearing from other people across the nation who really believe this is important and maybe sharing some of their own experiences in their own states, I think would also be helpful. Another thing that people can do if they ever visit here is just treat our service workers well. You know, tip them a little more, just know that they’re working super, super hard. Tourism is really rough here. Sometimes, you know, people tend to feel entitled sometimes—and not everyone does, but they do have to put up with that a lot. Just having people be friendly and showing aloha for them, as well as much as they show aloha for the tourists, I think would be really great.


Josie Duffy Rice: Absolutely. Thank you so much for joining us.


Christy McPherson: Thank you so much for having me.


Tre’vell Anderson: We’ll put some links in our show notes for the websites Christie mentioned, but that is the latest for now. We’ll be back after some ads.


[ad break]


Tre’vell Anderson: Let’s wrap up with some headlines.


[sung] Headlines.


Tre’vell Anderson: The Supreme Court had quite the busy Monday. Yesterday, they rejected a petition to review Pennsylvania Supreme Court’s decision to release disgraced comedian Bill Cosby from jail on the grounds that his due process rights had been violated. Also yesterday, the judicial body rejected Republican-led challenges to court-ordered congressional maps in North Carolina and Pennsylvania. The maps originated after each state’s Republican controlled state legislature submitted a particularly gerrymandered map that gave the GOP an unfair advantage. Each state’s Supreme Court rejected its map, adopting maps that were less biased towards Republicans, leading those Republicans to appeal to the federal Supreme Court. The decision of the court to not intervene in redistricting disputes in these battleground states could bode well for Democrats ahead of the 2022 midterm elections. Amid these rejections, our highest court did manage to actually rule on something in Wooden v. US, the nine justices unanimously ruled that a man convicted of robbing multiple storage units in the same building on the same night was guilty of just one quote, “criminal episode” under the Armed Career Criminals Act. That law precludes people who have been convicted of three or more serious felonies, quote, “committed on occasions different from one another” from owning guns. It’s a major victory for Wooden, who faced more than a dozen extra years in prison due to prosecutors’ harshest possible interpretation of that law. Yesterday, the Supreme Court said that conviction was an error which will reduce his prison sentence and narrow the scope of the Armed Career Criminals Act for others.


Josie Duffy Rice: The Pentagon announced yesterday that the U.S. Navy will permanently close its Red Hill fuel storage facility on Oahu in Hawai’i. The development comes after leaked petroleum was found in Pearl Harbor’s tap water in November of 2021, resulting in a contaminated water crisis. The contamination of the area’s drinking water caused nearly 6,000 people in military housing at or near Joint Base Pearl Harbor-Hickam to get sick, displacing 4,000 families in the process. Back in December, we heard from Mai Hall, a Native Hawaiian resident in military housing who would get her water from Red Hill well. Here she is, describing her neighbors:


Mai Hall: A lot of my friends took pictures of their kids with blistered, bloody lips. Somebody went to the E.R. for chemical burns inside their mouth. Somebody’s five months pregnant wife went to the E.R. for uncontrollable vomiting, and somebody’s little. Infant was covered in a red rash from bathing in the water.


Josie Duffy Rice: Protesters and activists have been pushing for the closure of the facility for years, as known problems with Red Hill date as far back as 2014, when 27,000 gallons of jet fuel leaked from the facility. Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin issued a statement yesterday explaining that the Defense Department will work closely with Hawai’i’s Department of Health and the Environmental Protection Agency to safely defuel the Red Hill facility, a process that is expected to take about a year, and an action plan will be put in place quote, “no later than May 31st.”


Tre’vell Anderson: Another tough break for the guys who drive the big cars that go honk-honk. On Monday, the Biden administration proposed new policies that would require heavy duty trucks to reduce certain emissions over the next decade or so. The rule would require newer truck models reduce nitrogen dioxide emissions by 90% by 2031, while also further narrowing carbon dioxide emissions. The EPA says this is the first action of a three-step “Clean Trucks Plan” which will roll out over the next three years. The proposal was just one of a handful of federal clean transportation actions announced by Vice President Kamala Harris on Monday, alongside $5.5 billion towards state purchases of low or zero-emission transit busses and $17 million toward replacing diesel school busses with electric ones. Because diesel is a known carcinogen, the EPA estimates by 2045, new limits will have helped prevent 2,100 premature deaths, 6,700 hospital admissions and 18,000 cases of asthma in children. No estimates, however, have been released on how many trucker tantrums the regulations will cause, but we’ll confidently say at least three.


Josie Duffy Rice: Yeah. Best case scenario. Uh, paws up little WADsters: Lady Gaga announced the new tour schedule for her Chromatica Ball tour, which was originally set for 2020, back when the monsters were even littler. The tour will be honoring the original locations, as well as adding a few additional cities to the cross-continental ball. We’d like to thank the Academy for snubbing Lady Gaga for an Oscar for her genre and logic-defying turn in House of Gucci, reminding Gaga that in addition to sometimes acting, she’s also a globally beloved pop star. The tour will take place starting in July across Europe before moving to North America, concluding at Dodger Stadium in Los Angeles in September. When Chromatica came out in 2020, fans saw Gaga collaborate with Elton John, Ariana Grande, and perhaps most notably, the Oreo cookie. We’ll all have to wait and see if the pink and green Chromatica Oreo, which was somehow real and not a COVID dream we all shared, will appear with Gaga on stage with her during her tour. In fact, someone will have to just tell me because I can’t stay up late enough to go to concerts anymore.


Tre’vell Anderson: You know what? I haven’t been to a concert in a minute. I’m not going to see Lady Gaga, but I’m glad she’s put acting on hold for a minute. We love to see it.


Josie Duffy Rice: We love to see it. Just ‘til, you know, give it a year, babes, give it a year.


Tre’vell Anderson: And those are the headlines. That’s all for today. If you like the show, make sure you subscribe, leave a review, help retire Lady Gaga from acting, and tell your friends to listen.


Josie Duffy Rice: And if you’re into reading, and not just the growing list of trucker woes like me, What A Day is also a nightly newsletter, so check it out and subscribe at I’m Josie Duffy Rice.


Tre’vell Anderson: I’m Tre’vell Anderson.


[together] And who wants to buy a claymation Pete Davidson?


Josie Duffy Rice: It’s going for $10,000.


Tre’vell Anderson: High price, OK. It’s handmade.


Josie Duffy Rice: There’s really only one audience for it, and it’s Kanye West and he has money, so you know.


Tre’vell Anderson: He’s got plenty of money. OK?


Josie Duffy Rice: Kanye, just call us? We’ll make it happen.


Gideon Resnick: What A Day is a production of Crooked Media, It’s recorded and mixed by Bill Lancz. Jazzi Marine and Raven Yamamoto are our associate producers. Our head writer is Jon Millstein, and our executive producers are Leo Duran and me, Gideon Resnick. Our theme music is by Colin Gilliard and Kashaka.