Categorized | Government, News

Updates from Sen. Hirono (Feb. 27-March 6)


Sen. Mazie K. Hirono has voted against a Republican attempt to make it harder for workers to form unions. Hirono took to the Senate floor to speak out against the measure, explaining why it was bad for middle-class families and our economy.

“I rise to oppose this misguided resolution that hurts working families in Hawaii and around the country. The right to organize is a crucial part of our democracy. Unions have helped build the middle class in Hawaii and nationwide. It’s disappointing that instead of working to create jobs or help the middle class get ahead, today we’re debating whether to make it harder to join a union.”

The measure Hirono voted against would have permanently blocked reforms by the National Labor Relations Board that would bring union elections into the 21st century.

The NRLB set new rules to streamline election procedures, reduce litigation and delay, and allow workers trying to organize a union to use modern contact information like cell phone numbers and email addresses to contact workers.

The rule will also make it easier for small businesses to follow labor election law.

Currently, big corporations can use expensive lawyers to litigate and prevent union elections, while small businesses must play by the rules.

Hirono’s full speech below, as prepared for delivery:

Mr. President,

I rise to oppose this misguided resolution that targets workers’ right to organize and hurts working families in Hawaii and around the country.

Union election rules haven’t been updated since the 1970s. The National Labor Relations Board (NLRB) is trying to bring union election rules into the 21st Century. But today’s Senate resolution would block the NLRB’s commonsense updates.

The right to organize is a crucial part of our democracy. Unions have helped build the middle class in Hawaii and nationwide.

It’s disappointing that instead of working to create jobs or help the middle class get ahead, today we’re debating whether to make it harder to join a union.

Workers wishing to join a union face many barriers.

One, companies have significant opportunity to make their case to employees about why they should oppose a union.

Meanwhile, unions are not allowed to visit the worksite to make their case for joining a union. And they do not have access to modern contact information — like emails and cell phones — to contact workers after hours.

In addition, companies can delay union elections with frivolous litigation and appeals. Nationwide, in contested cases, workers already have to wait an average of four months to vote whether to join a union.

While most employers in Hawaii want to support their workers, there have been rare cases of companies exploiting the current system to prevent workers from having a voice in the workplace.

Let me tell you about a situation that happened in Hawaii where workers had not been given a raise in six years. They asked a local union for help in organizing their union.

In the run-up to the union election, the workers were forced to attend one-on-one or group meetings on work time, where the management could convince workers to vote against the union. This company hired a private security firm and posted security guards outside the voting area during the vote. Workers felt intimidated.

The company appealed the election results and NLRB rulings over and over again, adding delay after delay, and re-vote after re-vote. In July 2005—40 months after a petition was first filed to hold an election—the NLRB Board finally certified a union for the workers.

Still, the company continued to offer appeal after appeal of the election’s results, and even fired 31 union supporters in 2007.
Finally, at the end of 2012, ten years later, the certified union reached its first union contract.

The NLRB’s updated union election rules would help reduce this kind of intimidation and delay, including allowing organizers to contact workers by email and cellphone. Pretty astounding that a rule change was required to make this common sense change, which this resolution disallows.

The rule will also make it easier for small businesses to follow labor election law. Currently, big corporations can use expensive lawyers to litigate and prevent union elections, while small businesses must play by the rules.

I urge my colleagues to join me in supporting these modest, commonsense updates to NLRB rules, and voting no on the resolution.

Instead, let’s stand with working men and women of this country and support the middle class.

I want to end with a quote from Hawaii Laborers’ Business Manager Peter Ganaban. In a recent piece in Pacific Business News, Peter explained that “Hawaii’s union climate is an extension of our local culture of helping each other and caring for our communities.”

Allowing workers a fair choice to join a union is the least we can do.




This weekend, Sen. Mazie K. Hirono and Congressman Mark Takai will travel to Alabama to commemorate the 50th anniversary of Bloody Sunday.

Selma On Saturday, Hirono and Takai will join civil rights leaders, President Obama, and a bipartisan group of lawmakers in marching across the Edmund Pettus Bridge in Selma.

Hirono and Takai plan to present flower lei to civil rights leaders commemorating the march, just as Rev. Abraham Akaka did for Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1965.

This is Hirono’s second trip to Selma to commemorate Bloody Sunday, she previously went in 2009.



Sen. Mazie K. Hirono released the following statement after the House of Representatives approved the Senate’s bipartisan bill fully funding the Department of Homeland Security through the remainder of the year, without extraneous immigration policy riders attached:

“The House has spent far too much time on this manufactured crisis. It should not have taken this long to pass a clean, full-year funding bill for the agency charged with keeping our people and communities safe. Now that Congress has funded the Department of Homeland Security, we should have a serious debate about immigration reform. It’s been nearly two years since the Senate passed bipartisan immigration reform. I urge Members of the House to work with the Senate going forward to pass a comprehensive immigration reform package that recognizes that strong families are the cornerstone of our immigration system and economy.”



U.S. Sens. Chris Coons (D-Del.) and Dick Durbin (D-Ill.), members of the Senate Judiciary Committee, and Mazie Hirono (D-Hawaii), member of the Senate Committee on Small Business and Entrepreneurship, will introduce legislation to strengthen America’s patent system and target abusers.

The STRONG Patents Act takes a series of focused, thoughtful steps to make the patent system work for individual inventors and research-intensive companies from every sector of the economy.

It would make it harder for firms to be targeted with frivolous patent lawsuits, level the playing field between small inventors and large companies, and ensure the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has the resources it needs to ensure patent quality.

“Invention has long been the foundation of our nation’s prosperity and global leadership,” Coons said. “As our economy continues to grow and diversify, we need to ensure our patent system works for everyone, including inventors from all sectors of the economy. We must stay true to that part of the American Dream that says anyone with a great idea can change the world. The STRONG Patents Act includes targeted thoughtful reforms to combat abuse where it’s prevalent while ensuring our rich innovation ecosystem remains vibrant. From advanced biofuels to the lifesaving cures that give people a reason for hope, patents have fueled the innovations that help us meet some of our biggest challenges. I look forward to working with my colleagues to strengthen America’s engine of innovation.”

“It’s time to move past the false premise that the only way to deter ‘patent troll’ abuses is to enact sweeping reforms that weaken patent protections for everyone,” Durbin said. “For generations, our carefully crafted system of patent laws has helped America lead the world in innovation. Rather than fundamentally rewrite those laws – for the second time in 5 years – at the request of a few industries, we should instead seek to narrowly target and deter abusive troll behavior while preserving the ability of legitimate patent holders to protect their innovations.”

“America’s strong patent system drives innovation and fuels long-term economic growth,” Hirono said. “I am proud to join Sen. Coons and Sen. Durbin in introducing the STRONG Patents Act – a bill that supports our innovators by restoring balance and improving quality in the patent process. Small businesses and entrepreneurs form the backbone of Hawaii’s economy, and the STRONG Patents Act takes important steps to protect businesses harmed by abuses in patent litigation without unnecessarily burdening innovative start-ups and inventors.”

The STRONG Patents Act would strengthen our patent system and combat abuse by:

* Cracking down on abusive demand letters by empowering the Federal Trade Commission to target firms that abuse startups rather than invent anything;

* Ensuring that pleading standards for patent-infringement cases match the standards used for all other forms of civil actions, creating a significant barrier to frivolous lawsuits before any funds are spent on discovery;

* Eliminating fee diversion from the U.S. Patent and Trademark Office (PTO) so we can ensure that those who examine patents have adequate training and dependable funding;

* Ensuring balance in post-grant proceedings at the PTO, so that this expedited form of patent litigation is both fast and fair;

* Analyzing the impact that our patent system has on small businesses, both from the perspective of startups reliant on patents and those small businesses facing allegations of infringement.

Today, intellectual property-intensive industries comprise one-third — $5.5 trillion — of America’s GDP. They generate 27 million jobs and pay employees over 30 percent more than other industries.

In a statement of support, the Association of American Universities said, “We thank Sen. Coons for introducing the STRONG Patents Act of 2015. AAU supports this legislation because it targets the abusive practices of patent trolls through judicious, carefully calibrated measures that would not make it more difficult and costly for all patent holders to enforce their patents and thus diminish the overall strength of the U.S. patent system. Universities’ ability to move their discoveries to the private sector for the benefit of the public through technology transfer depends on a strong patent system. It is our hope that Congress will take up this legislation in the coming weeks.”

The Association of Public and Land-grant Universities said, “The STRONG Patents Act of 2015 is a straightforward bill that would effectively crack down on the abusive practices of so-called patent trolls without weakening the U.S. patent system. Universities rely on a strong patent system to ensure that research discoveries can be transitioned to private sector entities, which can scale-up and develop marketable products that improve quality of life and fuel the economy. This measure would help ensure the strength of this technology transfer process, which significantly contributes to our nation’s leadership in science and technology.”

Biotechnology Industry Organization (BIO) President and CEO Jim Greenwood said, “BIO supports balanced reforms to reduce abusive patent practices, while maintaining the strong incentives necessary to sustain our nation’s global leadership in biotechnology innovation and the creation of high-wage, high-value jobs throughout our country. The STRONG Patents Act of 2015 achieves this critical balance. I commend Sen. Coons for his leadership in drafting legislation that cracks down on false or deceptive patent demand letters, re-balances post-grant proceedings to ensure fairness for patent owners and prevent growing abuses, eliminates diversion of PTO user fees and protects the rights of American entrepreneurial businesses. BIO supports the STRONG Patents Act of 2015 and will continue to advocate for passage of legislation to curbing abusive patent practices, while not undermining the ability of patent owners to defend their inventions and businesses against infringement.”



Sen. Mazie K. Hirono released the following statement after the House’s failure to pass a bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security through a three-week continuing resolution:

“After this afternoon’s stunning vote, the House has just a few hours to prevent a Department of Homeland Security shutdown. Speaker Boehner should bring the Senate’s clean bill to the floor for a vote and fund DHS for the rest of the year. This has been a manufactured crisis and it’s time for House Republicans stop playing games with the department responsible with keeping our nation safe.”



Sen. Mazie K. Hirono led a bipartisan group of 17 Senators in introducing and passing a resolution to recognize the month of February as American Heart Month and Friday, Feb. 6, 2015 as National Wear Red Day.

“In Hawaii and across the country, heart disease is the leading cause of death for both men and women. For women, the impact of heart disease is significant and more needs to be done to study heart disease in women and minorities,” said Hirono. “By coming together with many of the women Senators on both sides of the aisle to recognize American Heart Month, we will bring awareness to this important issue and encourage all Americans to seek critical preventative screenings and treatment.”

“Many thanks to Sen. Hirono for her leadership on this effort. This new resolution celebrating American Heart Month will bring more awareness to the No. 1 killer of women, and assist us with our mission to protect the public from heart disease,” said Elliott Antman, M.D., president of the American Heart Association. “We applaud the Senate for the unanimous passage of this legislation.”

The bipartisan resolution was cosponsored by Sens. Lisa Murkowski (R-AK), Shelley Moore Capito (R-WV), Heidi Heitkamp (D-ND), Dianne Feinstein (D-CA), Tammy Baldwin (D-WI), Richard Durbin (D-IL), Elizabeth Warren (D-MA), Barbara Boxer (D-CA), Debbie Stabenow (D-MI), Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), Maria Cantwell (D-WA), Susan Collins (R-ME), Kelly Ayotte (R-NH), Jeanne Shaheen (D-NH), Patty Murray (D-WA), Deb Fischer (R-NE), and Amy Klobuchar (D-MN).

Last year, Hirono joined her fellow women Senators to call on the Department of Health and Human Services and Centers for Disease Control to improve the representation of women in heart disease research and testing. More women than men have died from heart disease but current treatments are based on research done on men.



Sen. Mazie K. Hirono released the following statement calling for a clean bill to fund the Department of Homeland Security:

“Despite the fact that the House has put us on the brink of shutting down the Department of Homeland Security, I’m hopeful after this morning’s vote that Congress will send the President a clean bill to fund DHS. But now, it is in Speaker Boehner’s hands. It is up to Speaker Boehner to end this manufactured crisis and pass this clean full-year funding bill through the House. Our national security is at stake. If the House fails to get a clean DHS funding bill to the President’s desk by midnight, most of the 200,000 DHS employees across the country, including nearly 2,000 based in Hawaii, will be furloughed or forced to work without pay. Furthermore, the many furloughs at DHS headquarters will mean that FEMA disaster assistance grants will not be processed for those affected by Hurricane Iselle and the lava flow on Hawaii Island. It is reckless and irresponsible to shut down a federal agency charged with protecting all of us.

“I urge Speaker Boehner to avoid pursuing a short-term continuing resolution that only passes the buck for a few more weeks. A short-term continuing resolution doesn’t fix this problem and only leads to continued uncertainty for our homeland security efforts. It’s time that the House join the Senate in passing a clean DHS funding bill and sending it to the President’s desk.”

Funding for the Department of Homeland Security is set to expire on Feb. 27. The President has been clear he will veto any policy riders that undo his executive action and harm millions of students and families. The original House Republican bill would force an untenable choice between shutting down the Department of Homeland Security or deporting children and families. If a DHS funding bill fails to pass, front-line personnel will continue to work but will not get paid, including nearly 2,000 in Hawaii.

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