Labor Day is just weeks away and in Hawai‘i, Filipinos have always been at the forefront of the organized labor movement, beginning with Pablo Manlapit, who organized the first Filipino labor union in 1911. The ethnic labor unions proved to be largely ineffective, however, and in 1946, the International Longshore and Warehouse Union (ILWU) brought all ethnic groups together, including the last batch of Sakadas, in what has been called The Great Hawai‘i Sugar Strike, which ended the Big Five’s domination over Hawai‘i’s social life.
Later, Filipinos played a role in leading the ILWU Local 142, beginning with Antonio Rania, Calixto “Carl” Damaso, Erinio “Eddie” Lapa, Eusebio “Bo” Lapenia, Jr., Fred Galdones, and Isaac Fiesta.
But in 2012, Donna Domingo became the first Filipina to win election as the president of ILWU Local 142–not to mention the first ILWU president from Maui.
Donna was born on October 29, 1957 in Honolulu, Hawai‘i to Lolita Ventura and Benjamin Escalito Castillon. Donna, a third generation Filipina-American, says her parents were born in Hawai‘i and trace their roots to Ilocos Norte. Donna’s husband Sylvester also traces his roots to Ilocos Norte—Justo Domingo came to Hawai‘i in 1918 and lived in Waimea Camp on Kaua‘i. Justo worked at the Waimea Mill and had ten children, with Sylvester’s dad as the oldest. Donna described Justo as “a strong and loving family man.”
During high school, Donna moved to Maui and graduated from Baldwin High School in 1975. (She previously attended Castle High School and attended He‘eia Elementary School in Kāne‘ohe.). In 1977, Donna earned her degree in Hotel Management from Maui Community College now known as University of Hawai‘i Maui College.
Donna’s first job was at Shirley’s Drive In on Lono Avenue in Kahului. In 1981, she became a member of ILWU when she started working at the Maui Lu Resort. Donna was employed at The Maui Lu Resort—the first hotel in Kihei—for twenty-eight years. At Maui Lu, Donna received the Employee of the Year award. She was seen as a leader by her fellow workers, who often shared their problems with her or asked her for help with job-related issues.
Donna’s skills and trust from her fellow workers led to her first being elected in 1990 as the Unit’s Vice Chairperson and Treasurer and seven years later as the Unit’s Chairperson. In 1997, Donna was also elected to the ILWU’s Executive Board as a Trustee for the Maui division.
1997 became a critical moment in Donna’s career. She joined the first group of ILWU leaders who attended the Western Regional Summer Institute for Union Women. Donna learned that women could also be strong leaders and gained the confidence to aim for a full-time leadership position in the union.
Six years later, Donna became the first Filipina Vice President of ILWU and became responsible for major collective bargaining assignments, including negotiating the contract for ILWU’s largest general trades unit—Foodland Super Market which employs about 1,000 ILWU members throughout Hawai‘i.
Now, as president, Donna serves as the union’s chief executive officer, running the day to day operations. Donna continues to negotiate contracts for the 18,000 member union, whose motto “An injury to one is an injury to all” is still relevant.
Despite her busy schedule, Donna sat on the Maui Liquor Control Commission, the Maui Planning Commission, the Aloha United Way Board of Directors, the Industrial Relations Research Association Board, and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, to name a few.
Donna continues to live in Kihei with her husband Sylvester but commutes to Honolulu every week for her job. Donna also enjoys reading and spending quality time with her family and is a member of St. Theresa Catholic Church.
The labor movement has played an important role in the success of Hawai‘i’s Filipino community. Many of the freedoms and rights we enjoy today are due to the labor movement.
We thank Donna Domingo—a goal oriented, persevering, steadfast, fair, and humble Filipina—for representing all of us.