A HISTORIC PERSPECTIVE
The 1950's - Hawaii's economy, dominated by the Big Five and surviving mostly on agriculture and defense spending, appeared to have changed very little in decades. However, looks can be deceiving. Beneath the surface, Hawaii was going through a gradual, but permanent change in the way people lived and worked.
Labor unions were making their presence known by that time as thousands of men and women marched and fought for better working conditions, wages and dignity. Their success, kicked off by the Teamsters and the Hotel Employees and Restaurant Employees, laid the groundwork for the Hawaii of today in which all workers in the islands are guaranteed certain basic rights.
But the men and women who shaped the labor scene in those days were more than just union organizers. They were visionaries, who saw that common people could aspire to live their lives at the highest level. In that regard, they went beyond just creating labor unions and founded an institution that is unique in the entire country - Unity House.
The vision of such people as Art Rutledge, George Kaisan, John Reinecke, James Chock and others, was to provide services to working families that were outside of traditional union activities. These included educational assistance, recreational programs and even financial support. At first, because of limited funds, Unity House could only offer a small measure of help. But, over time, this became substantial. Today, Unity House spends hundreds of thousands of dollars each year to help more than 20,000 beneficiaries with sports, travel, child care and scholarship programs.
The commitment and vision of the early pioneers of Unity House is alive and well as the institution they founded has grown from humble beginnings to a force that makes it possible for many to have a better life.