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Sara Nelson (lower right) was a featured guest speaker. (Photo credit: UH West Oʻahu Staff)

National labor leader Sara Nelson discussed the safety and health of workers through the example of Hawaiʻi’s transportation workers during “Safe Travel = Safe Hawaiʻi,” a virtual event hosted by the University of Hawaiʻi–West Oʻahu’s Center for Labor Education and Research (CLEAR) in September.

Named “America’s Most Powerful Flight Attendant” by the New York Times, Nelson is the international president of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO, which represents nearly 50,000 flight attendants at 20 airlines.

“As the great labor organizer Mother Jones (Mary G. Harris Jones) said, ‘Mourn the dead and fight like hell for the living,’ and we are doing that right now,” Nelson said at the beginning of her presentation, following a moment of silence for workers who lost their lives during the course of the pandemic. “We’re doing that by coming together today, honoring the people who have come before us, honoring the people who gave up their lives to give us the rights that we have.”

CLEAR, LaborFest Hawaiʻi, and the Hawaiʻi State AFL-CIO collaborated to co-sponsor the event, which drew 170 participants to the live Zoom meeting and more than 900 views to the recorded presentation on Facebook Live.

On the registration page, the event description stated, “Awareness and respect for workers’ rights and responsibilities combined with action by individuals is needed because the resilience and soundness of the community is directly connected to our well-being as workers.”

“Our rights that we have as labor do not exist because they were just bestowed upon us…,” Nelson said. “They were won because people thought it was important enough to stand up for each other and to fight against all odds for a better day for ourselves, and for our families, and for our fellow co-workers.”

Read more at Ka Puna O Kaloʻi.

—By Zenaida Serrano Arvman