The Union Hall stands today as it did for the past decades, as a community gathering place for friends and family on the island of Hawai’i. Since 1954, the Union Hall in Honoka’a has hosted over a thousand events for the community ranging from weddings to Luau’s, corporate and political events, indoor sports to local music bands, and everyday gatherings hosting visitors and the residents of Hawai’i.
As the Union Hall begins its renovation, we ask the community for their input how we may serve going forward as we plan to enhance our facilities and expand our parking.
Please contact us and help shape our future!
Since 1954, the ILWU Union Hall building was the hub of union activity in the community in Honokaa. Today, it stands as a reminder of the role the Union played in Honokaa in the lives of the 800 sugar workers at the Hamakua Sugar Company, then the largest employer on the island of Hawaii. The Quonset hut building in Honokaa was emblematic of community—where working men and women gathered for meetings to build unity for collective bargaining, for soup kitchens to feed themselves and their families during strikes, for celebrations of union victories and family events. The Union promoted working together toward common goals, collective action, community, solidarity.
But when Hamakua Sugar Company declared bankruptcy and finally closed in 1994, some 800 workers were left jobless, and the entire community was affected in one way or another. Despite difficult times, the community pulled together with support from public and private resources to help overcome the hole that was left behind when the plantation closed for good.
In the years that followed the closure of Hamakua Sugar, activity at the Honokaa Union Hall decreased as the concentration of membership shifted to West Hawaii. Eventually, in an effort to preserve the Union Hall, the ILWU sold the property to Lee West in 2021, who offered to restore and re-establish the Union Hall to the families and friends of Honokaa and the Hamakua Coast communities, under a new entity, The Hamakua Community Foundation.
The building was named for Jack Wayne Hall, who served as the regional director, negotiator, and organizer for the ILWU in Hawaii for 25 years when he was elected International Vice President for the ILWU two years before his untimely passing. Just 55 years old when he died, Hall organized thousands of workers into the Union, led members on historic strikes that earned respect for union members, negotiated union contracts that provided wage increases, better working conditions and protections on the job, and gained political power without ever running for public office. A self-taught man with little formal education, Hall was an eloquent, fiery speaker with the steely mind of a true leader.
Hawaiʻi’s labor history is inextricably linked with Jack Wayne Hall and the ILWU building. Hall and the ILWU left Hawaiʻi with a record of labor advocacy and achievements that transformed its working class and will forever be a big part of Hawaii’s history. Hall is credited with being the single most important person to help build the ILWU in Hawaiʻi into the democratically run, politically active union that it is today.
Jack Hall arrived in Hawaiʻi in 1935 the same year that the barriers that made labor organizing illegal were lifted by the U.S. Congress with the passage of the National Labor Relations Act; but even with the passage of this Act, labor organizing was difficult–anyone who did union organizing was “black balled.” Primarily through his vision and leadership the ILWU gained in collective strength and became a major driver that helped to successfully transform Hawaiʻi’s labor force, economy and politics. Today all Hawaiʻi reaps the benefits of the Hawaiʻi labor movement and here on Hawaiʻi Island Jack Wayne Hall is honored in Honokaa Town, a community that is steeped in labor history; Thus, it is very fitting for the ILWU to have named their Honokaʻa union hall after Jack Wayne Hall a leader that epitomized the legacy and labor accomplishments of the ILWU. (Gerald De Mello, unpublished manuscript, 2015; NHERC, 2016)
Lee West was a businessman and today, embodies the spirit of service, cooperation, and community that many in Honokaa value. With his vision to restore the physical building and its significance to the community, West hopes the Union Hall will remind us of lessons from the past and share them with present and future generations.